The state lawmaker who was charged with driving while intoxicated Friday night is among the biggest spenders of campaign funds at liquor stores, an examination by The Texas Monitor found.
Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, was arrested late Friday night and charged with DWI after a Cadillac that left the scene of an accident in Brownsville was found at his home and authorities allegedly determined him to be the driver.
In its 2017 report, Living Large, The Texas Monitor’s research found that Oliveira spent at least $16,105 in campaign funds at liquor stores between 2007 and 2016, with descriptions that included “beverages for capitol office” and “beverages for district office for constituents.” Oliveira ranked fifth in the Texas House of Representatives in the Living Large index, which included such expenses as exotic travel, swanky Austin accommodations and luxury car leases.
Further examination of the numbers by The Texas Monitor on Monday found that Oliveira has spent a total of $37,208.80 at liquor stories since 2003 using campaign funds. Some of the expenditures state that he bought soft drinks, gifts and other items that are non-alcoholic. Brownsville liquor store Feldman’s is the most frequent stop, with Oliveira having spent $15,352.10 there in the past 15 years.
In addition, Oliveira has spent $60,185.74 at Cobbleheads Bar & Grill in Brownsville since 2003. Most of those expenses are probably for meals and not alcohol, but the totals are unclear since the receipts are not itemized.
Although The Texas Monitor cannot definitively say that Oliveira spent more campaign funds on alcohol than any other lawmaker, he does top the list for expenditures to businesses with “liquor” in the title, according to the research. Many expenditures for lawmakers may not include that term if “liquor” is not part of the name of the business, such as Feldman’s.
Using the keyword “liquor” in examining the Texas Election Commission expenditures database shows that since 2000, Oliveira has spent almost double that of the closest lawmaker in that category — $18,299.19 compared to number two Eddie Lucio III with $10,218.98. Lucio placed fourth on the The Texas Monitor’s Living Large index among members of the House.
Oliveira was released on $2,500 bail on Saturday morning, Texas Tribune reported.
Authorities said they responded to a report of an accident, and found a Cadillac leaving the scene. A woman in the Lexus parked behind it told an officer that there was no accident.
But the officer spotted a Chevrolet parked on the side of the road that had been hit from behind while stopped at a traffic light. The driver told the officer the driver of the Cadillac exited his car, handed over a business card and promised to take care of the situation. Police said the business card was that of Oliveira, an attorney.
The police said they went to Oliveira’s home and found both the damaged Cadillac and the Lexus and arrested the lawmaker.
Oliveira’s office didn’t immediately respond to The Texas Monitor’s request for comment Monday, but the legislator said in a released statement that he “made a mistake in judgement, and thankfully, no one was injured. I sincerely apologize to my family, friends, colleagues, and most especially to my supporters. I am embarrassed, but grateful no one was hurt.”
“In my career I have counseled people who have made similar mistakes, and I remind them that we are all only human,” he continued. “I know that my error in judgement has consequences and I will accept those consequences. I know that I will not be treated any differently than anyone else.”
Oliveira is one of the longest serving members of the House, having been elected to the body in 1981, but he’s in a tight election battle this year. He will face Democratic primary opponent Alex Dominguez, a commissioner in Cameron County, in the May 22 runoff.
Johnny Kampis can be reached at [email protected].