[This editorial from the “Austin American-Statesman” is in reference to the $3.3 million settlement that Texas taxpayers are supposed to pick up the tab for. It ran on Wednesday, February 15th.]
After agreeing last week to settle a whistleblowers’ lawsuit against him that will likely cost Texas taxpayers $3.3 million, ethically compromised Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday tried to falsely spin it as a win—for taxpayers.
“I have chosen this path to save taxpayer dollars and ensure my third term as Attorney General is unburdened by unnecessary distractions,” Paxton said in a statement.
Even for a public official as shameless as Paxton, this absurdist political spin is breathtaking. The fact is that Paxton’s firing of 8 whistleblowers who credibly accused him of bribery and abuse of office is almost certain to cost Texas taxpayers millions, just as it has cost the Texas attorney general’s office reputational damage that can only be repaired when Paxton, re-elected to a third 4-year term in November, is no longer in office.
Settlement Agreement Raises Questions About Use of Tax Dollars
The mediated tentative settlement agreement requires a $3.3 million settlement payment to 4 of the whistleblowers and an apology from Paxton to the plaintiffs, but not an admission of wrongdoing. The agreement raises serious questions about the propriety of asking Texas taxpayers to pay the settlement on Paxton’s behalf. The agreement is contingent on “necessary approvals for funding,” which means the Texas legislature may have to consider a funding request.
It’s certainly convenient for Paxton to ask taxpayers and Texas lawmakers to clean up the mess he made while professing he’s doing it “to save taxpayer dollars, but lawmakers must not let him off the hook easily, and should investigate whether the payment is an appropriate use of tax dollars.
Paxton has argued that Texas law allows for the expenditure of tax money to defend against multiple lawsuits filed against him during his tenure as attorney general. But Andrew Cates, who wrote a book called “Texas Ethics Law” said that doesn’t make it right, especially when the issue is a multi-million dollar settlement stemming from the firing of whistleblowers.
Cates said, “This is one of those just because you can doesn’t mean you should situations. I, personally, believe it would be more appropriate for him to take it out of his campaign fund.” Cates pointed to a Texas statute that allows campaign donations to pay the legal bills of a candidate or office-holder.
The whistleblower saga began in 2020 when 8 attorneys in the attorney general’s office—all of them appointed to their positions by Paxton—either resigned or were fired after telling federal investigators that they were concerned that Paxton was using the power of his office to help Austin investor Nate Paul, whose home and offices were searched by federal investigators in 2019. They accused Paxton of illegally using his office to help Paul, in exchange for benefits that included a $25,000 donation to his re-election campaign, remodeling Paxton’s home, and giving Paul’s alleged mistress a job. Overriding a decision by his agency’s Charitable Trusts division, Paxton also directed his office to intervene in a lawsuit against Paul lodged by The Mitte Foundation.
Paxton’s Legal Bills Are Adding Up
The allegations against Paxton are sadly unsurprising when considering his time in office. For 7 years he has been under federal indictment for securities fraud and the State Bar of Texas has sued to sanction him for his shameful role in trying to overturn the legitimate presidential election of 2020. Nor should Texans be surprised that, once again, Paxton is asking for a handout to help him pay for his legal fees. So far, according to the Dallas Morning News, Paxton has run up half a million dollars in legal fees. Instead of relying on state attorneys, Paxton hired outside attorneys, one of whom charged $540 an hour, paid by taxpayers.
After years of questionable behavior that has been rewarded by election to a third term, we’d be naïve to expect Paxton to become a paragon of virtue at this late stage of his career. …Texas needs an attorney general who is looking out for their best interests, not just his own