This week on The Texas Monitor: Paxton prosecutor Kent Schaffer has been billing hours on vacation; contracts and contributions mix at Bush’s Alamo project; the HCC investigation is rebooted after the current investigators step down; and the Republican caucus pursues rules changes after Straus announces his retirement.
Texas Monitor Week In Review - July 2, 2017
Since March, The Texas Monitor’s research team has poured over a decade’s worth of spending reports, uncovering millions of dollars of campaign funds that have gone toward lifestyle benefits for state lawmakers. This week, we reached number two in our countdown of the biggest spenders. Coming in at number 2 in the Texas House is Rep. Dan Flynn, who represents a district east of Dallas. He spent ovear $440,000 on lifestyle-oriented spending categories included in our tabulation. Over $100,000 of that total went toward out-of-state travel — 30 trips in all over the past ten years. “Legislative information gathering” was his stated purpose for visiting Panama in 2014. And according to his expense reports, Flynn engaged in international trade discussions on his trips to Amsterdam and Turkey in 2015. Flynn also citied various state-related purposes for his other 27 trips. Flynn spent another $186,000 in donor money on his living expenses while in Austin. State legislators convene for a six-month session in Austin every other year, and the state pays them a per diem to cover room and board over that period. But like many others in our study, Flynn taps his campaign account instead for an apartment that he maintains year-round including off years. Flynn has also frequently used campaign cash to pick up the check at some of Austin’s finest restaurants — such as a $1,400 outing to Ruth’s Chris Steak House. The bulk of Flynn’s over $1.5 million in contributions has come from special interests outside of his home district, which is typical among the top spenders on our list. But Flynn is a stand out when it comes to spreading the wealth from his campaign stash. He has spent over $122,000 for gifts to supporters — including $14,000 worth of cookies. Flynn couldn’t be reached for comment. Tune in next week to find out the #2 top spender from the Senate. The San Antonio Express News reported this week that two former leaders of the South Texas town of Crystal City were convicted on multiple corruption charges. A Del Rio jury found former mayor Ricardo Lopez and former city manager and city attorney William James Jonas III guilty of federal conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud and theft charges. Jonas, Lopez and other city officials allegedly took bribes from parties doing business with Crystal City, according to court testimony and evidence gathered through a federal corruption probe. Four other city officials have already pleaded guilty in related cases and are awaiting sentencing. And in another South Texas scandal, two Presidio county officials were arrested on federal corruption charges this week, as reported by KOSA TV. FBI agents arrested Lorenzo Padilla Hernandez, a Presidio County commissioner, and Carlos Eduardo Nieto, who is a trustee for the Presidio Independent School District and the Special Projects Coordinator for the City of Presidio. Hernandez and Nieto allegedly steered a County contract to an allied company in exchange for kickbacks. Both men face prison sentences of 20 years or more if convicted. The Mayor of Presidio, John Ferguson, expressed his shock at the arrests in a prepared statement. He encouraged citizens that believe “there is rampant corruption at city hall” to “[g]et involved and be a part of making Presidio a better place.”Posted by The Texas Monitor on Sunday, July 2, 2017