This week in our investigative series, “Lifestyles of State Lawmakers”, the Texas Monitor continued its countdown of state representatives and senators who spend freely out of their campaign accounts for personal perks, like living expenses in Austin, cars, travel to tourist destinations, and gifts to supporters.
Representative Garnet Coleman of Houston came in at #3 in the House, with a total of $456,000 in expenditures on such indulgences since 2007.
But where he stands apart is in his penchant for Washington politics. In an emailed response to The Texas Monitor, he declared himself “a proud supporter of President Obama”, in reference to his 14 trips paid for with campaign funds to see the former president and first lady. He also tapped his campaign stash to make a $7,800 campaign contribution to Obama and a $41,000 contribution to the Hillary Victory Fund.
Even aside from his Obama visits, Coleman is one of the most well-traveled members of the Texas House, with over $106,000 spent on travel for him and his staff since 2007. His travel map is dotted with destinations outside Texas, like Las Vegas, New Orleans, San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale, and Vancouver. In his email response, Coleman attributed his jet setting to various political obligations.
Coleman put another $100,000 of donor money into cars over the past decade. Judging by his most recent monthly payments of $763, he is evidently cruising in style.
Coleman likes to share his political patrons’ generosity with his supporters—such as the $36,800 worth of Christmas ornaments he’s bought them. He told The Texas Monitor this is “a long-held tradition that will continue.”
The Texas Ethics Commission came down on Coleman in 2008 and again in 2010 for numerous violations related to his campaign finances.
Over in the Senate, Eddie Lucio Jr came in at #3 with his almost $800,000 in campaign spending on perks over the past decade.
He shares Coleman’s giving spirit, shelling out nearly $290,000 in donor cash for gifts to supporters.
He’s also generous when it comes time to pay the check—with $70,000 spent on meals while at home in Brownsville and another $31,000 in Austin.
Speaking of Austin, he’s spent $287,000 in rent on his home away from home, which he keeps even in non-legislative years.
Lucio spent double Coleman’s total for wheels over the examined period—a cool $200,000. His travel budget was more modest than Coleman’s, although he still found time to explore places like Panama, Istanbul, Rome, Vienna, and Germany.
How can they afford all of this? Lucio is a good example. He’s raised over $2.5 million in campaign contributions in the past decade but faced very little election competition. That has left plenty of cash available for spending on the finer things—which is permissible under Texas’ campaign finance laws.
Adrian Shelley, director of the Texas office of watchdog group Public Citizen, offered this explanation: “Lawmakers get up here to Austin and start to fall into another culture where these expenses are normalized.”
Lucio’s office didn’t reply to an email from The Texas Monitor seeking comment.
In other news, the Texas Tribune reported that the Texas Ethics Commission fined Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller $2,750 for campaign finance reporting violations in his 2014 run for office. Miller’s campaign spokesman called the commission’s investigation “nothing more than a politically motivated witch hunt.” Miller has faced other complaints while in office, including allegations that he misused campaign funds for two trips that included personal activities, such as an appearance in a Mississippi rodeo and the receipt of a medical injection called the “Jesus Shot” while in Oklahoma.
The San Antonio Express News reported that newly elected San Antonio City Councilman Manny Palaez took the stand in Del Rio against an old friend accused of corruption. Palaez testified that James Jonas, the former manager and city attorney of Crystal City near Houston, offered to get Pelaez a contract with a solar company in negotiations with the city in exchange for a kickback. This is one of numerous charges brought against Jonas in 2016, along with a former mayor, three former city councilmen and an 8-liner operator. The defense is expected to put on its case next week.