The Geek Squad is undoubtedly happy when they see Rep. Eddie Lucio III coming.
That’s because the Democrat from Brownsville has spent more than $28,000 in campaign funds at Best Buy in the past decade. Loose laws concerning how such funds are spent allow lawmakers to use them for a variety of purposes. In addition to stocking his Capitol and district offices with TVs and computer equipment, Lucio has treated constituents and voters to nearly $5,000 in gifts and gift cards from Best Buy since 2007.
Lucio has also been a frequent shopper at Apple Store, spending more than $12,500. That includes the purchase of two MacBook Airs for $3,150 in 2015 for campaign staff – even though Lucio hasn’t faced a single opponent in an election since he won his seat in 2006.
The Texas Monitor has found that legislators like Lucio have been able to build up sizable campaign coffers thanks to special interest demand for access and lack of election competition. They then use that money on campaign-related travel to sometimes exotic locales, nice Austin apartments, sweet rides and various gifts for constituents. An examination of such campaign expenses by Lucio between 2007 and 2016 by The Texas Monitor found that he spent $312,803 on those categories, ranking him fourth among the lawmakers in the Texas House during that time period.
Lucio’s office did not return a call from The Texas Monitor seeking comment on the report.
The category in which Lucio was most prodigious was for housing and dining in the capital city, a total above $110,089. He has rented apartments and houses for legislative sessions, with the quality of the digs generally increasing over time, based on the rental rate.
In 2007, Lucio averaged paying about $850 a month to stay at Regency Park Apartments. In 2009, he moved into the Camden South Congress apartment complex, where he paid about $1,600 a month in rent. He rented a home for most of 2011, in which his campaign paid at least six months rent at $2,500 per month. In 2013, he moved back to Camden South Congress, whose name had changed to City View at SoCo Apartments, where he paid an average of more than $2,000 per month in rent. In 2015, Lucio stayed at Amli on 2nd where rent payments reached above $2,800 per month.
The Texas Monitor recently reported on how it’s not uncommon for Texas lawmakers to pay rental rates twice the city average, and use campaign funds to help furnish their apartments.
Lucio has used that money to buy more than $25,000 in furniture and supplies, $1,506 for maintenance, $598 for maid service, $468 for a security system and $189 for renter’s insurance.
He’s also spent nearly $70,000 on cars and car expenses since 2007. His payments for a 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe using campaign funds are about $685 per month, as of the end of 2016. In addition to the car payments, Lucio has spent $22,367 on maintenance and parts, $10,821 on insurance, $698 on vehicle registration and $379 for car washes.
Lucio has spent about $11,680 in campaign funds for travel, including trips to Anchorage, Denver, Orlando, Santa Monica and Washington, D.C. That includes a trip to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in the Colorado capital and four trips to the nation’s capital to “meet with Congressional leaders on border issues” and to “meet with the President of the United States,” according to descriptions of the trips.
Lucio’s expenses also include 14 trips to Ben’s Liquors in Brownsville totaling $2,282 and 18 trips to Jones Liquor in Brownsville totaling $5,586. Those stores are popular among the lawmakers on the list, as The Texas Monitor recently reported that another Brownsville Democrat, Rep. Rene Olivera, who ranks fifth, spent about $12,000 at those two stores in the past decade.
In all, Lucio has received $1.48 million in contributions since 2007, nearly two-thirds of that from entities such as political action committees, business groups and law firms.
His top five donors are Bob Perry ($116,500), Texans for Lawsuit Reform Political Action Committee ($71,288), Border Health PAC ($50,000), Atmos Energy Political Action Committee ($17,500) and USAA Employee PAC ($16,500).
Josh Silver, director of Represent.Us, the country’s largest grassroots anti-corruption campaign, told The Texas Monitor that list is representative of what happens when states allow unlimited contributions.
“This report is a who’s who of big money special interests, and it’s sadly not an exception. Politicians from both major parties take massive amounts of money from the very special interests they regulate – this time at the expense of everyday Texans,” Silver said.
He noted, too, that Texas is one of just a handful of states that allow candidates to use campaign contributions for personal expenses. In Lucio’s case, perhaps he learned how best to work the system from his father, Eddie Lucio, Jr., who ranks third on The Texas Monitor’s examination of Senate spending.
“This is a glaring loophole in Texas law and it’s shameful that the legislature has not closed it. The anti-establishment political sentiment — in Texas and nationwide — is because of this kind of legalized bribery and corruption that has come to define American politics,” Silver said. “It must stop.”
Contact Johnny Kampis at [email protected].