GALVESTON — County Judge Mark Henry in 2016 ordered nearly $63,000 to be transferred from his campaign account to his beer company without reporting the transfer on his campaign finance reports — an apparent violation of state law.
It was an action that led his campaign treasurer — who is also his wife — to file a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission.
He “instructed me to transfer $62,775 from his campaign contributions account at Amegy Bank… to the bank account of the Galveston Bay Beer Company,” Amy Henry’s complaint to the Texas Ethics Commission reads.
The money was to pay a third-party vendor for beer canning equipment, according to the complaint. She added that she told the County Judge: “I did not think that such a transaction was correct.”
Transferring money from a campaign account to a private business can be a Class A misdemeanor, which could mean fines and jail time.
He ordered she do it anyway, she claimed in the complaint. She told The Texas Monitor she later withdrew the it, and Mark Henry said the complaint was dismissed.
Henry says he followed the law
Henry insisted he followed the law and that he was simply paying himself back a loan he made to his campaign for Galveston County Judge in 2010. Indeed, he said he loaned his own campaign $120,000 and this transfer of money was just a portion of a payback.
“It’s extremely well documented, no question about it. I loaned myself $120,000 in 2010 to run for this office,” Mark Henry told The Texas Monitor. “No one disputes that. I repaid myself part of that money, not even all of it.”
Henry provided The Texas Monitor tax records showing he removed $120,000 from his IRA in 2010, and his campaign finance reports during that time show about that much money being used for his initial race for county judge.
Recent Texas campaign finance rules say that candidates must report loans on their public reports.
An examination of Henry’s campaign finance reports over the past year, however, shows that he did not report any outstanding loans, when there were apparently still outstanding loans.
That is a Class C misdemeanor, which does not mean jail time, but can mean fines.
If there are any legal issues, Henry points to his wife as the culprit.
“And I hate to say this, my wife was the treasurer,” Henry said. “If anything was done improperly it was her responsibility.”
Amy Henry defended her decision. “I didn’t agree with it or I would not have made the complaint,” she said. “I never agreed to it. I didn’t want to do it. I felt compelled that I had to do it.”
She was torn, she said. “He’s my husband.”
Toothless Texas Ethics Commission?
The Texas Ethics Commission, which monitors campaign finance reports and levies fines when there is wrongdoing, said they could not comment on the Henry complaint, citing state law.
It is uncertain if anything will be done in regards to the complaint. Even when there are obvious violations, it’s not clear what the Texas Ethics Commission can do.
Take the case of State Rep. Ron Reynolds, a Missouri City Democrat.
The Texas Ethics Commission has so far fined Reynolds $52,000 for his failure to file the reports, according to its records.
His nearest competitor for the title of most-fined delinquent filer is a district judge candidate from Alpine at $30,500.
There are, at best, a handful of fines over $20,000 among the more than 60 delinquents.
Jay Aiyer, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at Jordan Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, was asked on a recent addition of the Party Politics podcast if the Ethics Commission was “toothless.”
“They effectively are,” Aiyer said. “It’s an ethics agency that puts out fines. They don’t really have a control mechanism. They don’t have any criminal power. They don’t have any referral power. So part of the issue ends up being that it’s self policing. It becomes a court of public opinion that shames legislators into participating.”
Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-258-6119.