The Brief: Top Texas News for Feb. 8, 2013

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst at TribLive in Austin, TX, Jan 24, 2013
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst at TribLive in Austin, TX, Jan 24, 2013

The Big Conversation

The plot in the David Dewhurst campaign fund scandal continues to thicken.

The Dallas Morning News reported Thursday that the U.S. Justice Department has opened an investigation into whether Kenneth "Buddy" Barfield, Dewhurst's former campaign manager, stole at least $1 million from the lieutenant governor's U.S. Senate campaign account. 

The new investigation comes about a month after Barfield was publicly accused of embezzling at least $600,000 from Dewhurst's state campaign account, for which he is now under investigation by the Travis County district attorney’s office.

The embezzlement figure for the state fund may reach about $1 million, meaning Barfield may have lifted more than $2 million in total from Dewhurst's accounts.

"This is a serious and unfortunate situation, and our attorneys have turned the matter over to the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Election Commission," said Dewhurst spokesman Rob Johnson. "The federal campaign is fully cooperating with both agencies in their investigation of this matter, and we look forward to the resolution."

Recent campaign finance filings, which disclosed the new allegations, also show another potential breach of federal election law involving Dewhurst’s U.S. Senate campaign owing money to his state campaign account for consulting services. 

For Dewhurst, the revelations come at an awkward time. Not only did the missing funds leave him last month with just $7,200 in his state account, but the controversy has added a thick layer of intrigue to his political career as he readies for a re-election bid in 2014.

Capitol Notes
Compiled from Tribune reports

Texas cities, school boards and public pensions would have to post more detailed information about their spending and finances online under bills championed by state Republican leaders Thursday.

Comptroller Susan Combs and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst joined members of the Legislature to offer a unified front behind two sets of bills aimed at requiring more government transparency.

Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, and Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, filed identical bills (House Bill 14 and Senate Bill 14) that require all taxing entities in the state to post detailed financial information online, including the entity’s outstanding debt. The bills also require any bond proposals that go before voters to include information about the entity’s existing debt obligations on the ballot.

"Voters must know how much debt they are carrying and how much debt service they are currently paying before they choose to vote in more debt," Combs said.

A second set of bills, SB 13 from Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, and HB 13 from Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Katy, would require public pension systems to increase their transparency by posting more of their accounting information online.

Culled

•    Probe launched after Bushes' email hacked (Houston Chronicle): "A hacker apparently gained access to a score of confidential emails and other electronic correspondence between members of the Bush family and friends, prompting a criminal investigation. A spokesman for former President George H.W. Bush confirmed that authorities have begun an investigation but declined further comment."

•    Perry Launches Business Tour in California (The Texas Tribune): "Californians heard from Texas Gov. Rick Perry on radio airwaves this week, in an ad their governor, Democrat Jerry Brown, called 'barely a fart.' Next week, they can expect to see Perry himself, pitching Texas as the business frontier to high tech, insurance and film industry leaders throughout the Golden State."

•    State orders closure of North Forest ISD (Houston Chronicle): "State officials on Thursday once again recommended closing the troubled North Forest Independent School District, whose leaders and supporters immediately vowed to fight the decision. Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams recommended that the district of 6,900 students be annexed into the mammoth Houston ISD effective July 1."

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