Much like the old Johnny Cash song, Rep. Dan Flynn has been everywhere — man.
The Republican from Canton has made more than 30 out-of-state trips in the past 10 years using campaign funds to pay for at least part of each trip. Many of them were for National Conference of State Legislatures conferences.
Domestically, Flynn has been to Albuquerque, Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Fort Myers, Jackson, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Reno, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Seattle, Tucson and Washington, D.C.
He has also taken trips to such international locations as Amsterdam and Turkey for “international trade” discussions, according to descriptions of the expenses, as well as Panama for “legislative information gathering.”
In all, Flynn has used campaign coffers to pay for $103,986 in out-of-state travel since 2007, and he’s spent $440,698 total in the categories examined by The Texas Monitor that also include Austin living, car expenses, and gifts. Totals from these categories, along with other questionable expenditures, place Flynn second in the Texas House for campaign spending between 2007 and 2016.
He couldn’t be reached for comment.
Flynn has spent the most in the category of Austin living expenses, which include housing and food, for a total of $186,296. About $165,125 has gone to rent an apartment in Austin each year although the legislature only meets every two years. His average monthly rent payment over the past decade has been $1,461, but these days it’s closer to $2,000 per month.
While most lawmakers on The Texas Monitor’s big campaign spenders list purchase or lease vehicles with six figures worth of campaign money, including some nice wheels that have included a Beemer, Flynn only shows a single $5,000 expenditure to Jack O’ Diamonds Honda in Tyler in 2016 with the description “vehicle.” He has, however, used campaign funds to pay for insurance ($10,931), vehicle repairs and maintenance ($10,806) and registration fees ($1,163).
Flynn has spent $122,443 for gifts in the past 10 years, including $13,913 for cookies.
He has spent $29,595 at the Texas Correctional System’s furniture store, a special perk for state officials, $20,882 at the Texas House — mostly for souvenir calendars and flags — and $16,605 at the Capitol Gift Shop.
He has also made 238 expenditures for $14,403 at florist shops, often for flowers for funerals.
Flynn also likes to use campaign funds to pay dues to various organizations. This includes Van Zandt Country Club ($4,941), Canton Lions Club ($4,443), AAA Texas ($504), Texas State Rifle Association ($455) and National Rifle Association ($180).
His expense reports also show some expenditures not found on many other lawmakers’ reports, including $325 to the Miss Teen Organization, $164 for U.S. passport renewal and $141 for Netflix membership fees.
Lawmakers often walk a fine line between campaign account purchases that are for constituents — they can use the money to buy their own meal as long as they’re dining with a constituent, for example — and that could be construed for personal use. Take the number three person from the Texas House on The Texas Monitor’s list, Rep. Garnet Coleman, who was alleged by the Texas Ethics Commission in 2010 of converting campaign funds for personal use, but ultimately not found to be in violation of the charge. Or take Sen. John Whitmire, fourth on the Texas Senate list, whose plentiful sports ticket purchases were questioned. He wasn’t slapped with a penalty for conversion but did face some heat for not disclosing enough information about his contributors.
Flynn has served in the Texas House since 2003, avoiding competition in five of the eight general election races for the seat. It’s a running theme on The Texas Monitor’s list: the top campaign spenders tend to face less competition, allowing them to build up their coffers.
He received $1.58 million in campaign contributions between 2007 and 2016, with his top donors Texas Credit Union League PAC ($56,373), Bob & Doylene Perry ($55,000) and Texas Cornerstone Credit Union League ($54,750).
By industry, Flynn’s top contributors are finance and banking (an estimated $286,000), legal (an estimated $98,000), and building and construction (an estimated $86,000).
Laura Friedenbach, deputy communications director at Every Voice Center, said to fix the system on these “self-dealing practices,” there needs to be a move away from allowing massive campaign donors to seize practically all of the attention with blank checks.
“We need to fundamentally alter the way candidates run campaigns so that their focus is on their constituents, not big donors and large checks,” she told The Texas Monitor. “We need to shift priorities to raising small donations and talking to regular constituents, instead of rubbing shoulders with big donors.”
Contact Johnny Kampis at [email protected].