Texas Monitor Week in Review – June 18, 2017

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Last week, The Texas Monitor began its countdown of the state legislators from each chamber who have spent the most on personal perks from their campaign coffers. Our investigative series, Lifestyles of State Lawmakers, has explored campaign spending reports for the state legislature going back ten years, revealing the lobby-fueled lifestyles of lawmakers who get elected over and over without real competition. Starting off our list at #5 from each chamber were Representative Rene Oliveira and Senator Robert Nichols.

This week, we published reports on the #4 top spenders — Representative Eddie Lucio III of Brownsville and Senator John Whitmire of Houston.

Lucio made the list with over $300,000 in lifestyle expenditures. More than a third of that went toward his Austin accommodations, including $2,800 in monthly rent for a year-round apartment, even though the legislature only convenes for six months every other year. He has also spent over $25,000 furnishing his home away from home.

Another $70,000 in donor money went toward automotive expenses, including his Chevy Tahoe payment of $685 per month.

Lucio has also broadened his horizons with campaign-funded travel to places like Anchorage, Denver, Orlando, Santa Monica and Washington, D.C.

All of this is perfectly legal under Texas’ lax campaign regulations, and it’s also typical of the other top spenders on our list. Two areas in which Lucio stands out, though, is in liquor and electronics purchases.

Senator Whitmire’s signature campaign indulgence is sports. His season tickets with the Houston Texans, Rockets and Astros along with other outings add up to over $286,000 over the past decade.

Whitmire is also a trail blazer in accumulating stock in his campaign account—having amassed a $6.6 million portfolio.

But the senator splurges in the typical ways too—such as $140,000 on leased BMWs and related amenities and upkeep, and 26 trips to places like Hawaii and Canada.

Whitmire’s campaign spending habits were the subject of a complaint to the Texas Ethics Commission in 2009, resulting in a $3,400 fine. Whitmire was dismissive of the disabled veteran who filed the complaint, telling the Houston Chronicle, “It’s a total non-issue by some character out in California, so I don’t care what he thinks.”

Stay tuned until next week for the legislators coming in at #3 on our big-spender list.

This week saw new developments in the securities fraud case against Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The Dallas Morning News reported that jurisdiction is moving from Paxton’s home turf near Dallas to the Houston area, where a newly elected Democratic judge will officiate. This change of venue was requested by the special prosecutors, who argued they couldn’t get an impartial jury in Denton County due to an alleged PR campaign by Paxton loyalists. The presiding judge who granted this move was recently ousted from the case by an appeals court, triggering the selection of a new judge in Harris County.

Collin County is now fighting to punt the ongoing court costs to Harris County, having already cut off payments to the special prosecutors.

In other news, a former West Texas county judge has pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges linked to an indicted state senator. Prosecutors say that former Reeves County Judge Jimmy Galindo conspired with state Senator Carlos Uresti to secure a contract to provide medical services at a correctional center at the behest of an allied company. Galindo is scheduled to be sentenced in August and Uresti has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.

And, in a far corner of the state — in the small town of Deport between Dallas and Texarkana — the youngest mayor in Lamar County history, 27-year old John Mark Francis, turned himself in for allegedly stealing office supplies. His arraignment is scheduled for next month.

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