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How will Paxton pay for his defense?

It’s a tricky question.

Best mugshot ever

Paxton faces three felony charges in Collin County, all related to his work as a private attorney and businessman. He told supporters in an email that he expects to be found innocent of all charges. The indictments handed up last month by a grand jury have nothing to do with the public Ken Paxton — the one who serves as attorney general and once served in the Senate and House, and the one who campaigned for votes for each of those jobs.

That means he can’t use the money in his substantial campaign account, according to attorneys familiar with the state’s campaign finance laws — Randall “Buck” Wood and Ed Shack, both of Austin. That money — he reported cash on hand of almost $2.5 million at the end of June — cannot be converted to his personal use.

And because the charges involve his private business and not his public business, he can’t tap the campaign funds.

That doesn’t mean he has to pay for everything, but it means it would be complicated to try to raise money to cover his expenses. And even if he finds a legal way to do it, finding a politically palatable solution will be hard. Voters are accustomed to political contributions, even if the money is being used to defend a politician in court for charges related to actions taken on the campaign or as an officeholder. Tom DeLay had a defense fund. Kay Bailey Hutchison did, too.

Personal litigation is different. Paying for that has nothing to do with public business. Offering to help someone in Paxton’s position is to offer a gift; offering a gift to a politician, with certain exceptions, is to offer a bribe.

The exceptions to the state’s bribery laws might allow a Ken Paxton Defense Fund, and if it works out, that could make his nights more restful.For instance, it’s clear that a public official cannot accept benefits from someone who is involved in litigation with their agency, or is about to be. So many of the folks most interested for professional reasons in helping the state’s top lawyer wouldn’t be able to give. And it’s clear in the law that legislators, the governor, the lieutenant governor and the people who work for them cannot accept gifts. The attorney general and other statewide officials are not named in that statute. Business associates can give giftsto public officials, however, so long as their gifts are independent of the recipient’s status as a public servant.

The story notes how Paxton’s situation is different than Rick Perry’s, since Perry’s charges stemmed from actions he took as Governor. I suppose we should be grateful that Ken Paxton wasn’t accused of securities fraud while acting as Attorney General, but that puts him in the same positions as pretty much everyone else accused of a serious crime: It’s going to cost him a lot of money to defend himself. Unlike everyone else, Paxton will have plenty of people who would like to help him pay his legal bills, but that’s also problematic. And given Paxton’s apparent history of, um, being casual about rules and regulations, perhaps someone ought to keep a close eye on any “Ken Paxton Legal Defense Fund” or similar construct, as well as Paxton’s existing campaign finance account, because you never know.

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One Comment

  1. Michael says:

    I’m guessing IndieGoGo…