Paxton himself would like to know, though he doesn’t want you to know that he wants to know.
In mid-July, a law firm representing an unnamed state official asked the Texas Ethics Commission whether it would be legal under state gift-giving laws for its client to receive a “benefit” from a donor if the official “has no reason to believe” the donor is subject to his agency’s oversight.
The firm’s name was redacted from the opinion request, and the anonymous official was described simply as “a public servant who works, in a leadership capacity, for an agency that performs regulatory functions, conducts inspections, and conducts investigations.”
According to the request, the donor has signed a written statement saying he is not subject to the agency’s oversight in any way.
“In addition, the public servant has no actual knowledge that the donor is subject to the regulation, inspection, or investigation by the public servant,” the request said.
Under state law, an official at a regulatory agency that conducts inspections and investigations is forbidden from asking for, accepting or agreeing to accept a benefit if the official knows the giver is subject to the agency’s authority.
Earlier this month, the eight-member ethics commission discussed, but did not adopt, a draft opinion in response to the request. Commissioners said they did not have enough information to determine exactly what the state official knows about the donor.
“This requestor just needs to do it again with more facts and circumstances,” Commission Chairman Paul Hobby said.
As it relates to Paxton’s specific case, ethics experts said how the commission will respond is complicated by the scope of the office of the attorney general, which handles everything from lawsuits defending the state, antitrust cases targeting illegal business practices and unpaid child support. In effect, virtually every Texan could be subject to the attorney general’s regulation or investigation at some point.
All of Paxton’s biggest donors are wealthy Texans with substantial business interests in the state.
Renea Hicks, an Austin-based lawyer who practices election and ethics law, and former assistant attorney general Fred Lewis, a state ethics expert, said the issue was problematic.
The commission could create a “huge loophole” if it allowed officials to accept donor money to pay for non-campaign related expenses like legal fees, Hicks said.
The attorney general, Lewis said, would need to be careful to show there is not even the appearance of a conflict of interest by refraining from taking money for his legal defense from people with pending or likely business before his office.
“An AG’s desire to collect private donations to pay legal bills and to hire good lawyers to avoid jail might tempt an AG to temper his judgment on his clients’ behalf,” Lewis said. “That is morally wrong, a violation of legal duties, and potentially bribery.”
Yes, please, Mister Anonymous Requester, ask again with some more information so we can better answer your question. The difference between Paxton and Rick Perry, in case you were wondering, is that Perry was indicted for acts that occurred in the course of his duties as Governor. As such, he is allowed by law to use campaign funds to pay his attorneys. Paxton allegedly did what he was indicted for as a private citizen, so pending a friendly TEC ruling he’s on his own. Not that there aren’t people who’d like to help him out, it’s just that right now they can’t. And honestly, I think it ought to stay that way, but we’ll see what the TEC says when and if that “anonymous requester” asks again. Trail Blazers has more.