The Public Integrity Unit is a state-funded division of the Travis County District Attorney's Office. It investigates public corruption, insurance fraud, and motor fuels tax fraud.
The Travis County DA holds the chief responsibility for enforcing the government and election code statewide. The unit was created under the leadership of Ronnie Earle, who served as the Travis County DA for three decades until his retirement in 2008. Earle captured national attention with his investigations into U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and became the poster child for what Republicans view as the unit’s politically motivated prosecutions. He told the Texas Tribune that he started the unit in the early ‘80s because “it made no sense to me to see an aggravated robbery case next to a case about a state employee cheating on travel vouchers.” At the time, Earle says the investigation of government crimes was “mostly left to the newspapers” because the Travis County DA spent most of its time fighting street crime.
Dismantling the unit is a perennial platform plank of the Texas Republican Party, and numerous members of the GOP, included DeLay and Hutchison, have criticized what they view as its politically motivated prosecutions. According to Earle, between 1978 and when he retired, in 2008, he prosecuted 19 elected officials, just five of whom were Republicans. Cathie Adams, the former Republican Party of Texas chair, filed an equal protection lawsuit over the issue in federal court last year. Her argument: Why should the voters of Travis County get to elect an official who has the power to prosecute offenses statewide? A frequently proposed solution — and one that state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, put forth unsuccessfully during the last legislative session — would be to put state corruption probes under the statewide-elected Attorney General.