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Analysis: Paxton's Supporters Protecting an Investment

Some of the supporters who jumped fastest to defend Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton are also those who invested the most in his campaign for office. They're protecting a substantial political investment.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the grand opening of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's new Austin building on April 21, 2015.

You keep the house painted, the car tuned up, the yard mowed — all of those sorts of things — in order to protect your investments.

Some of Ken Paxton’s political investors have been taking equivalent action since before he was elected attorney general of Texas — helping him overwhelm his political opponents and trying to keep him out of a legal jam. Now that he is in legal and political trouble, some have moved quickly to take care of their investment in one of the state’s most prominent conservative officeholders. After spending all that money getting him where he is, they are now laboring to keep him there.

Never underestimate the power of self-interest.

Take Empower Texans, for instance: That conservative political group’s front man, Michael Quinn Sullivan, was one of the first — and one of the few — to give Paxton real public support after securities-related indictments against the AG were made public this week.

They’re covering their bet, like any investor would, like anyone protecting an important asset: The organization has supported Paxton vocally and financially since he was a mere state representative challenging Speaker Joe Straus’ leadership in the Texas House.

In the 2014 race for attorney general, the group gave Paxton more than $400,000 in his Republican primary runoff fight against former state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.

Paxton won that low-turnout runoff with 63.4 percent of the vote. And he did it with even more help from Empower Texans, which guaranteed a $1 million loan to his campaign from Independent Bank of McKinney two weeks before the runoff, according to Paxton’s campaign finance filings with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Paxton’s campaign repaid the loan on Election Day in November, according to his campaign finance reports. He didn’t need the money to prevail over Democrat Sam Houston and two minor candidates in the general election.

Eight months and three days later, Paxton was named in a sealed indictment by a grand jury in Collin County, his home. Three weeks after that, the grand jury handed up two more sealed indictments. All three were officially released on Monday — two days after prosecutors told reporters about the charges.

Paxton was booked this week. He’s in deep legal trouble, which means he is also in deep political trouble.

His lawyers are focused on the allegations that Paxton committed securities fraud and also acted as a securities adviser representative without first obtaining the required state license. And in his only public pronouncement on the indictments — an email to supporters — Paxton said he expects to be fully vindicated of all of the charges.

Other Republican state officials have been remarkably cool to their brother in arms, either keeping their mouths shut or reading that line from the law book about how everyone is innocent until proven guilty and the legal system will do what the legal system is supposed to do.

But a few supporters are trying to make lemonade of all this fresh citrus, blaming their own political foes for their standard-bearer’s troubles.

They like Paxton. Paxton is being prosecuted. They figure their political enemies are at the root of his problems. That would be more persuasive if they could provide some evidence.

Some, like Sullivan and state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a Bedford Republican and a beneficiary of Empower Texans' support, blame Paxton’s former roomie, state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana. Cook is named in one of the indictments as one of the investors who lost his money in a company Paxton was touting, but there is no public evidence that he did anything to start the prosecution of the attorney general. The investment he is trying to protect here appears to be more financial than political.Cook has not spoken publicly about either his Servergy investment or the Paxton case.

Branch has remained exceptionally quiet, especially since he was saying way back during that runoff campaign that Paxton had violated the state’s securities laws and that voters ought to think twice before nominating someone who could be indicted soon after taking office.

At the time, Paxton admitted he should have registered with the Texas State Securities Board. He was reprimanded, paid a $1,000 fine and went on with his successful campaign for AG.

Voters ignored Branch’s argument and the television commercials he bought to make the point. Those particular political ads sounded like every other negative slur blaring from the TV set before the election, but they had a novel feature. Branch had it right.

He has avoided the temptation to take his schadenfreude public, however, and it’s hard to see what voters would make of his role anyway. If he had a role here, it was to put the Texas Rangers and the special prosecutors on the financial trail that eventually led to the charges against Paxton.

It’s only natural for the people and groups who supported Paxton last year to stick with him now that he’s in this predicament. Their claims that the indictments are political are falling flat, even among the politicos who shared the ballot with him last year.

Ken Paxton is either going to beat the charges against him or not, and his investors will know then whether their money was well spent.

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Criminal justice Byron Cook Joe Straus Ken Paxton