Commission: Paxton Can't Accept Out-of-State Gifts for Legal Fees

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at an open government conference in San Marcos on Dec. 9, 2015.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at an open government conference in San Marcos on Dec. 9, 2015.

A Texas Ethics Commission opinion that would have allowed Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to fund his ongoing legal battle through out-of-state donors failed to pass by one vote Monday.

The commission was asked anonymously if an individual working in the attorney general’s office may accept “benefits” from people or entities outside Texas.

A draft opinion considered by the commission said a person in the attorney general’s office — including Paxton — would not be prohibited from accepting money in circumstances where an out-of-state donor does not have any pending matters before the attorney general’s office.

But three commissioners – Jim Clancy, Tom Ramsay and Bob Long – voted against the proposal. Four voted for it; five votes are needed to pass an opinion.

Clancy said the commission should not pass the proposal without knowing who requested an opinion.

 

“I don’t know how you can evaluate this without knowing who is the donor and who is the recipient,” he said. “I’m concerned about the unintended consequences.”

But Commissioner Tom Harrison reminded commissioners that Paxton already must report any gifts.

“There’s no doubt, at least in my mind, that some donations made are going to be extremely scrutinized by members of the public and the media,” he said.

Last year, Paxton was indicted on securities fraud charges. He has said he has not used campaign donations or taxpayer money to pay his legal fees. Paxton is accused of soliciting buyers for more than $100,000 worth of stock in Servergy, a McKinney technology company, without disclosing that the company was compensating him.

Paxton pleaded not guilty in the case.

The anonymous person who requested the Ethics Commission opinion asked whether employees of the attorney general's office could accept donations from a person who does not live in Texas or from an out-of-state entity that involves a person who serves on a board that operates in Texas.

Under the proposal considered by the commission, a person in the attorney general’s office could not have accepted a benefit if they knew that “the true source of the benefit is a person who is subject to the jurisdiction of the public servant.”

Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, spoke against the proposal, arguing that it would be impossible to determine if there is a conflict of interest between the donor and employees of the attorney general's office.

“The jurisdiction of the attorney general is vast,” McDonald told commissioners Monday. “Who isn’t subject to the jurisdiction of the attorney general? I think that person is hard to find.”

McDonald also called the opinion "a permission slip" for Paxton to solicit donations for his criminal defense. 

 

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