Renewing an ethics debate from earlier this year, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis criticized her Republican opponent, Greg Abbott, on Tuesday for his previous involvement with the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. Abbott fired back with previously raised questions about Davis' own conflicts of interest.
During a campaign stop in Austin on Tuesday, Davis accused Abbott of not exercising enough oversight of CPRIT, citing an investigation that led to the indictment of a former high-ranking official at the institute in December. She said he failed at his “watchdog” role, claiming he was “looking out for his political donors” instead of the cancer patients that could have benefited from the institute’s work.
“Greg Abbott should know that if he has degraded the job that he has, he shouldn't be applying for a promotion,” Davis said to a room full of supporters at an Austin restaurant.
As the state’s attorney general, Abbott previously served on the oversight committee that was responsible for approving grants awarded by CPRIT, which was created in 2007 to finance $3 billion in cancer prevention research and the development of cancer treatments over 10 years. CPRIT came under fire in 2012 following allegations of corruption at the institute that prompted state leaders to place a moratorium on new grants. A state audit later revealed that $56 million in grants had been approved without following the proper peer review process.
After the scandal broke, Abbott’s role at the institute was scrutinized. The AG’s office has previously said that Abbott did not attend any of the oversight committee meetings because a designated staffer was sent to represent him on the board to avoid a conflict of interest given his role as the state’s watchdog.
Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch said the attorney general’s actions helped maintain his “independence” from the institute. That allowed Abbott to help investigate and prosecute wrongdoing at CPRIT, he said.
“Greg Abbott did what Sen. Davis failed to do — he removed himself from any potential conflict of interest,” Hirsch said in a statement.
Hirsch also reiterated the Abbott’s campaigns previous attacks on Davis for allegedly casting votes that would benefit her legal clients, including the North Texas Tollway Authority, which is part of an FBI inquiry. Last month, The Dallas Morning News reported that the FBI's probe into the board members of NTTA included documents related to Davis' legal work for the agency, citing a letter from the Public Integrity Unit about its own closed investigation into Davis.
The unit’s director later said his agency obtained documents from the FBI but had not provided any materials, adding that the unit did not find anything worth pursuing in its investigation into Davis. And her campaign said Davis is not the target or subject of any investigation.
On Tuesday, Davis attempted to paint Abbott as a political insider, honing in on $42 million in taxpayer money she said Abbott donors received from CPRIT. The list was compiled by the Democratic Lone Star Project, which has provided consulting and research to the Davis campaign.
“Under his watch, he allowed our cancer institute to become a piggy bank. Under his watch, his donors siphoned off millions and millions of tax dollars from cancer patients and from you,” Davis said.