Texas GOP chair Matt Rinaldi backed a group with white supremacist ties — while working for its billionaire funder

Former state representative Matt Rinaldi spoke to demonstrators at the Governor’s Mansion in protest of Gov. Abbott’s executive orders to close businesses and mandate masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Former state representative Matt Rinaldi spoke to demonstrators at the Governor’s Mansion in protest of Gov. Abbott’s executive orders to close businesses and mandate masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
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For more than three months, Republican Party of Texas Chair Matt Rinaldi has vigorously attacked critics of Defend Texas Liberty, and rebuffed calls to distance the state party from the powerful group over its ties to white supremacists.

As he did so, Rinaldi was also working as an attorney for one of the group’s two billionaire funders, Farris Wilks, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Since 2021, Wilks has given nearly $5 million to Defend Texas Liberty, which last year was the state party’s largest financial supporter. With Rinaldi’s help, the group has sought to purge the Texas GOP of more moderate voices by bankrolling far-right causes and primary candidates.

Government watchdog groups and some Republicans were heavily critical of the relationship between Rinaldi and Wilks, a prolific donor.

“In my two decades of involvement with the Texas GOP, I am not aware of anything even resembling the relationship between a state chair and a major donor that Matt Rinaldi has with Farris Wilks,” said Mark McCaig, a former member of the Texas GOP’s executive committee and Rinaldi critic who first noticed the SEC filings on Friday. “It’s certainly reasonable to ask whether chairman Rinaldi is working towards the betterment of the party, as he pledged he would do in 2021, or if he is more interested in promoting the agenda of Farris Wilks at the expense of a unified and functional party.”

Rinaldi’s work for Wilks began as early as September, according to the filings. Since then, Rinaldi has identified himself as an attorney for Wilks on two other forms, including one that was filed in November, as nearly half of the Texas GOP’s executive committee called for the party to cut ties with Defend Texas Liberty and its then-president Jonathan Stickland.

The calls were prompted by The Texas Tribune’s Oct. 8 report showing that, two days prior, Stickland had hosted the notorious white supremacist and avowed Adolf Hitler admirer Nick Fuentes for nearly seven hours at his office building in a remote, Tarrant County business park. Rinaldi was inside the one-story building for about 45 minutes while Fuentes was inside, but has said he had no idea Fuentes was there and denied that he met with him.

Texas Republican Party Chairman Matt Rinaldi is seen entering  the offices of Pale Horse Strategies in Fort Worth, Texas on Oct. 6, 2023.
Texas Republican Party Chairman Matt Rinaldi is seen entering the offices of Pale Horse Strategies in Fort Worth on Oct. 6, 2023. Credit: Azul Sordo for The Texas Tribune

“We were just borrowing a conference room,” Rinaldi said at the time. “I completely condemn (Fuentes) and everything he stands for. I would never in a million years meet with that guy.”

Since that meeting, Rinaldi has routinely attacked those who’ve been critical of Defend Texas Liberty or its funders, including Wilks. After House Speaker Dade Phelan and 60 other House Republicans called for lawmakers and candidates to redirect donations from Defend Texas Liberty to pro-Israel charities, Rinaldi spent weeks attacking Phelan and calling for him to resign.

Publicly, Rinaldi has also been silent about Defend Texas Liberty as the Tribune extensively reported on ties between the group and other white supremacists and Fuentes acolytes, instead attacking the group’s detractors.

And in December, as the Texas GOP’s executive committee debated a general ban on associating with antisemites, neo-Nazis or Holocaust deniers in response to the Defend Texas Liberty scandal, Rinaldi pushed back against the idea without publicly mentioning that he had worked for Wilks as recently as that November. The proposed ban was ultimately rejected.

Rinaldi and a spokesperson for the Texas GOP did not respond to requests for comment Friday morning. Wilks could not be reached for comment.

Defend Texas Liberty is funded almost entirely by Wilks and another far-right oil billionaire, Tim Dunn, who have together given the PAC roughly $15 million since 2021 to attack fellow Republicans, including Phelan, as weak and insufficiently conservative. Defend Texas Liberty is a key part of a sprawling network of political groups, campaigns, nonprofits and media websites that have received more than $100 million from West Texas oil billionaires as part of an ongoing project to pull Texas to the far right. Since Rinaldi was elected chair in 2021, the state party has received $392,000 from Defend Texas Liberty and the two billionaires. Last year, the group was by far the biggest donor to the party, giving it $132,500.

Rinaldi is a former state representative whose ultraconservative legislative career was heavily subsidized by Wilks and Dunn before he lost his Northwest Dallas County seat to Democrat Julie Johnson in 2018. In 2021, he was elected as the successor to controversial, former Texas GOP chair Allen West and, as the party’s leader, Rinaldi has been a crucial ally of Defend Texas Liberty, helping attack the group’s Republican opponents and backing its candidates.

Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of the watchdog group Common Cause Texas, said Rinaldi’s legal representation of Wilks was “shocking,” especially in light of the ongoing scandals involving Defend Texas Liberty that Rinaldi has been involved in.

“We all know money equals power in Texas politics and billionaires like the Wilks (brothers) use their wealth liberally to bend public policy to their liking all the time,” he said. “But it's still pretty shocking.”

The Texas Democratic Party also blasted the revelations in a Friday evening statement, calling Rinaldi a "stooge" who is "up for hire."

"We've seen the devolution of the Texas GOP in real time with Rinaldi at the helm of that chaos, and now we know why," party chair Gilberto Hinojosa said. "Rinaldi is in the pocket of Nazi billionaires who are paying him to infiltrate the Republican Party of Texas. ... Rinaldi's legacy reflects that of a talking head for the extremist right that has led his party directly into the ground."

Disclosure: Common Cause has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.