Attorney General Ken Paxton, dogged by a cloud of legal uncertainty since taking office in January, is not using taxpayer dollars to pay his lawyers, according to aides, who left it less clear whether he plans to tap his campaign account.
The question of how he has been footing his legal bills flared up Thursday with the disclosure of campaign finances that showed he spent almost $20,000 on legal services during the first half of the year. A Paxton spokesman indicated the expenses did not have to do with the ongoing fallout from his self-admitted violation of state securities law last year.
A special prosecutor overseeing the latest chapter in the saga has said he plans to ask a Collin County grand jury to indict Paxton on a charge of first-degree felony securities fraud. The grand jury is expected to meet in the next few weeks, and Paxton has hired high-powered Dallas attorney Joe Kendall to represent him.
Before Paxton brought Kendall on board, the attorney general was being represented by Matt Orwig and Bob Webster, two Dallas lawyers whose firms did not show up on Paxton's most recent campaign finance report. Asked Thursday evening about the legal services listed on the disclosure, Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm said in a statement, "My belief is that none of those are related to the events in Collin County."
Earlier in the day, Paxton's office made clear taxpayers have not so far been on the hook for Paxton's legal fees. That confirmation came from Cynthia Meyer, a spokeswoman for the attorney general.
The aides' statements raise the possibility that Paxton has so far paid for his lawyers out of his own pocket, though it was unclear Thursday whether that was entirely true. A spokesman for Kendall declined to comment, and Orwig, Paxton's previous attorney, did not respond to a request for comment.
Paxton, who has $2.5 million in his campaign account, could probably make the case that he could use it for his legal defense.
State law prohibits elected officials from using campaign contributions for personal purposes. One exception, however, is when an elected official is defending a civil or criminal action brought against them in their "status as a candidate or officeholder." Holm has long suggested Paxton is only facing the legal drama because he is a top-ranking elected official, while prosecutors have argued Paxton's political stature has nothing to do with their work.
The Texas Ethics Commission issued an advisory opinion in 1995 that shed some light on how it interprets the so-called personal use exception. A district judge had asked the commission whether he could use campaign contributions to pay for his defense against a lawsuit stemming from his time as an attorney before he joined the court. The commission concluded that judge was in the clear as long as he had determined "in good faith that a groundless lawsuit has been filed against him solely because of his status as a judge."
How Texas officials pick up their legal tabs has been in the spotlight due to former Gov. Rick Perry, who has burned through more than $2 million in state campaign cash to fight an abuse-of-power indictment. The indictment, which was handed up last year by a Travis County grand jury, centers on Perry's threat to veto state funding for the public integrity unit in the county district attorney's office.
Liz Crampton contributed reporting.