The Texas Ethics Commission declined to pass an opinion that would have said it was okay for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to accept out-of-state gifts from donors to help pay the legal costs for his indictment.
At a meeting on Monday, the Texas Ethics Commission voted 4-3 on an opinion that would have interpreted state law to say that public employees in the attorney general’s office can accept out-of-state gifts from donors as long as the donors have no ties to Texas or the attorney general’s office. Five votes are required to approve an opinion on the Texas Ethics Commission, so the opinion failed to pass.
Texas Ethics Commission Chairman Paul Hobby said the process worked and he would not entertain another motion to pass the opinion.
Paxton could still seek out-of-state donors to help pay his legal fees. The opinion would not have settled the debate once and for all. Opinions from the Texas Ethics Commission are merely interruptions of state law and a defense from prosecution.
Hobby said banning an attorney general employee from taking out-of-state gifts would go beyond the authority of the Texas Ethics Commission.
“The legislature has prohibited certain things. In the premise of free society, all things are legal till they are not,” Hobby said. “For us to amend the statute and add those words where they don’t exist…that is beyond interpretation.”
See here for the origin story. This is the second time that the TEC has backed off issuing an opinion that would have suggested that out of state donors could contribute to a legal defense fund for Paxton, each time coming on the heels of a draft opinion to that effect. As noted, these opinions don’t carry the weight of law, and Paxton can go ahead and solicit donations to pay his lawyers anyway, but now if a complaint is filed he can’t point to the TEC and say “hey, they think it’s legal”. The best answer is for the Lege to pass a bill clarifying the existing laws and closing this loophole. If Greg Abbott cares as much about ethics reform as he claims to, he should support that. I look forward to someone filing a bill to that effect and seeing what happens. The Trib has more.