Texas Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen has come under fire for a leaked recording in which he referred to a married Democratic representative as “gay,” and offered to sell media accreditation to a lobbyist firm.
In the recording, Bonnen requests gossip from a lobbyist about other members of the Texas legislature. Of Democratic Rep. Jon Rosenthal, Bonnen said Rosenthal’s wife was “gonna be really pissed when she learns he’s gay.” Bonnen also refers to colleagues as “a piece of sh*t” and “vile.”
In an ironic twist, conservative radio host Michael Quinn Sullivan made the recording and released it to his website. Sullivan also works as CEO of Empower Texans, a petroleum lobbying group that donated $4.7 million to far-right candidates in 2018. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Bonnen can also be heard begging Sullivan to keep the conversation private.
In the recording’s most damning passage, Bonnen offers quid pro quo with Sullivan, exchanging access to the legislative floor in exchange for campaign donations. “Let me tell you what I can do for you. Real quick, you need to hear what I want to do for you,” Bonnen says. Empower Texans had previously been blocked from attending legislative sessions due to its status as a lobbying firm.
Bonnen released a statement addressing the recording saying “no laws were broken: This was nothing more than a political discussion—the problem is that I had it with that guy. My colleagues have always deserved the facts and context this recording provides, and with clear evidence now disproving allegations of criminal wrongdoing, the House can finally move on.”