Round Rock ISD trustees called to return donations from embattled PAC

ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) – Two Round Rock Independent School District board members are facing calls to return thousands of campaign dollars they received from a political group, following news of the former president of the group meeting with a widely known white supremacist, antisemitic podcaster.

The group under fire for the meeting – Defend Texas Liberty PAC – donated $13,000 to RRISD Trustee Mary Bone and $18,000 to trustee Danielle Weston in December 2021, according to Texas Ethics Commission records. Those were the largest donations they received. Neither were up for reelection at the time.

The contributions attracted little attention until early October, when the Texas Tribune revealed Defend Texas Liberty’s former president Jonathan Stickland met for hours at his office with Nick Fuentes, a prominent activist who has denied the holocaust and praised Adolf Hitler. The October confab sparked powerful conservative leaders to renounce the meeting and redirect donations from the group.

RRISD Board President Amber Feller Landrum and Vice President Tiffanie Harrison called for their fellow trustees to return or redirect their contributions from the PAC.

Amber Feller
Round Rock ISD board trustee Amber Feller Landrum. (Courtesy: Round Rock ISD)

“I would never want any one of the families in our district to ever feel marginalized because they think someone on the leadership team, the highest leadership team of the district, the Board of Trustees, is aligned with somebody who is a known white supremacist,” Landrum told KXAN in an interview.

Landrum said she “wholeheartedly supports” the return or donation of funds received from Defend Texas Liberty. Harrison went further in her statement about Bone and Weston.

“Both trustees have shown a commitment to white supremacy, racism, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia in their actions. While receiving these funds are unconscionable, these contributions are in line with their behavior on and off the dais,” Harrison wrote.

Bone and Weston did not respond to a variety of requests for comment. KXAN attempted to reach them through multiple emails sent to their district board email addresses, several phone calls and messages left on their phones and certified letters sent to their homes.

THarrison 12 2022
Round Rock ISD board trustee Tiffanie Harrison (Courtesy: Round Rock ISD)

In late November, Bone announced she would be running for a position on the State Board of Education, which sets policies and standards for all public schools in Texas.

It isn’t clear if Bone or Weston will return or redirect the Defend Texas Liberty funds. Other lawmakers who took the PAC’s money did take that step, according to media reports.

Money returned

Soon after news of the Fuentes meeting broke, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said in a statement the meeting was “not just a casual misstep.” Phelan requested Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick return $3 million he received from the group, according to a report by the Texas Tribune.

Within days, Patrick issued a statement condemning antisemitism and announced his campaign would buy $6 million in Israeli bonds.

“As I have said, there is simply no place in Texas politics where the views of Nick Fuentes and his kind are acceptable or will be tolerated,” Patrick said in a news release.

Patrick relayed that he had spoken with Tim Dunn, a “principal funder of Defend Texas Liberty PAC.” According to Patrick, Dunn said the meeting was a “serious blunder” and the PAC would have no further contact with Fuentes.

Dunn and Farris Wilks have filled the bulk of Defend Texas Liberty’s coffers, providing millions. Both men are oil and gas executives with histories of prolific donations to conservative causes and politicians in Texas, according to state records.

Defend Texas Liberty’s former president Jonathan Stickland was replaced by Luke Macias, a political consultant. Macias did not return KXAN’s request for comment.

Defend Texas Liberty’s donations in Round Rock ISD came after Weston and Bone were on the school board for more than a year.

Bone has sat on the board since 2020. She is an engineer with a Ph.D. in systems engineering, according to her bio. Weston, a U.S. Air Force veteran and human resources “leader,” has been on the board since 2020, according to her profile.

Contentious past

In September 2021, months before Bone and Weston received thousands of dollars from Defend Texas Liberty, they publicly walked out of an RRISD board meeting amid heated disagreements over COVID-19 protocols, social distancing in the crowd and masking requirements.

“I want to say that due to the hostility directed to the public tonight and my concerns about violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act, this is a failure of leadership, and I am leaving,” Weston said at the meeting.

Members of the RRISD board butted heads again last year. At a June 2022 meeting to adopt a budget, Bone and Weston walked out, according to a board resolution. Their exit caused a break in quorum, but the budget was ultimately passed.

Members of the board including Harrison and Landrum later attempted – and failed – to censure Bone and Weston.

Legislative testimony

In April, Bone testified before the House Public Education Committee in support of education saving accounts, which create a voucher-like program for families to use taxpayer dollars on private school education.

Critics of voucher programs – which have included many public-school educators – said they are concerned the programs could suck funding away from public schools. Proponents, like Bone, said the current system is failing kids and they need more choice.

“We need to pass school choice,” Bone told the committee. “It will make our public schools better.”

Bone’s stance, she acknowledged, may be atypical for a public school board member.

“I might be the only trustee today that testified for the bill, which should be interesting,” she said.

Bone told the committee she has seen trustees who seek the position for personal reasons and are “not interested in other people’s children.”

“The one difference about me is that I am a strange person in the fact that I will sacrifice my own children for everybody else’s children because I am a Christ worshiper,” Bone told the committee. “I believe that’s what we are called to do.”

In response to a question about the state taking over RRISD, Bone said she would be “more than happy for the state to come in and do a big takeover.”

“Maybe that would be better. I don’t know,” Bone testified. “Because, you know, we’re failing a lot of students.”

Diverting donations

Regarding donations from Defend Texas Liberty, RRISD trustee Landrum recently said she supports Bone and Weston diverting the contribution to a group that aligns with the district’s values.

Campaign finance records show Bone and Weston have donated more than $23,000, primarily to political causes, since they received funds from Defend Texas Liberty.

In August 2022, less than a year after receiving $13,000 from Defend Texas Liberty, Bone sent $5,000 to Round Rock One Family PAC, according to campaign finance report records.

Round Rock One Family supported a slate of conservative school board candidates in the past, including former Round Rock ISD school board candidate Don Zimmerman – who gained national attention for his campaign signs saying ABCs, not LGBTs.

Landrum said the values of candidates supported by Round Rock One Family, like Zimmerman, appear to align with Bone and Weston.

“While they may not have been running under a campaign, like Don Zimmerman’s ABCs and 123s, not LGBTs and CRT, they gave money to them, to a PAC that supported him,” Landrum said.”I can’t say exactly what’s in their hearts, but it seems to align with that kind of behavior and that belief system. And I don’t think there’s a place for that in Round Rock ISD, especially not on the board of trustees.”

In response to Landrum’s statement, Zimmerman said:

“It is the World’s Greatest Teacher, unlawfully excluded from RRISD’s government school under the specious banner of ‘inclusive education’, who said ‘from the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks’. We can conclude from that that Trustee Landrum’s comments supporting the unlawful jailing of pastor Jeremy Story, and her religious belief system demanding affirmation of the LGBTQ agenda by elementary school children, that we – the decent taxpayers and parents of RRISD – should no longer tolerate her position of political power.”

Jeremy Story, cofounder of Round Rock One Family, replied to Landrum’s comment, saying, in part:

“Landrum’s public statement that people who believe in the traditional Jewish and Christian view of sex and marriage ‘don’t have a place in RRISD’ betrays her real beliefs, namely that she and the few board members with her are the true bigots in the district,” Story said. “Ideas like these caused them to violate my free speech and are the reason I am presently suing them in Federal court.”

Story filed a federal lawsuit in May 2022. In that case, he sued the district, several board members, police officers and the superintendent. In the original complaint, Story alleges the defendants failed to allow him into a public meeting, stifled his ability to wage complaints against the district’s superintendent and unconstitutionally threatened and prohibited his right to free speech, among numerous other allegations.

Landrum declined to comment further in response to Story.

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