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ethics

The state of the state 2019

Sometimes it’s what you don’t say that gets noticed.

Gov. Greg Abbott, in his biennial State of the State address Tuesday, stayed on message about schools and taxes, continuing state leaders’ so far unified focus on bread-and-butter policy reforms in a forum where he has in the past served up red meat.

Speaking in the Texas House to both chambers of the Legislature, Abbott named as emergency items the consensus priorities of school finance reform, teacher pay raises and property tax relief, the issues he and the state’s other top two Republican leaders have trumpeted almost single-mindedly in the months since the midterm elections. In doing so, he carefully avoided controversial social issues like the ones that headlined last session’s speech.

Also topping the governor’s priority list: school safety, disaster response and mental health programs. Abbott’s designation of those priorities allows lawmakers to take up such measures sooner, lifting the usual constitutional limitation that prevents the Legislature from passing bills within the first 60 days of the session.

“Our mission begins with our students,” Abbott said as he began to lay out his legislative priorities. To improve lackluster student outcomes — only 40 percent of third-graders are reading at grade level by the end of their third-grade year, he said, and less than 40 percent of students who take the ACT or SAT are prepared for college — “we must target education funding.”

[…]

Unlike in his first two State of the State addresses, Abbott did not deem ethics reform an emergency item. He tagged that issue with top priority status in 2015 and 2017, but didn’t mention it this year. Nor did he raise any proposals related to abortion. And there was hardly any other mention of health care, an expense that takes up nearly as large a share of the state’s budget as does education.

House and Senate Democrats called it “disappointing” that the governor didn’t propose expanding access to pre-K or lowering the costs of teachers’ health care.

And state Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas, who serves as the caucus’ second vice-chair, said that Abbott, for all his bragging on the state of Texas during his speech, failed to mention the state’s high uninsured rate for health care.

“Texas needs to expand Medicaid,” Rose said during the conference, “and we need to expand it today.”

Still, Democrats were optimistic about some of the notable absences. Two years ago, Abbott’s address was headlined by his call for an anti-“sanctuary cities” bill that Democrats would staunchly oppose. This year, the governor mostly stayed away from hot-button social issues.

“It certainly was a different speech than we heard two years ago,” state Rep. Chris Turner, the Democrat who heads his party’s caucus in the House, said after the speech. “It seems as though election results have consequences.”

Another conspicuous absence from the speech was the voter rolls debacle that has dogged state leaders in recent weeks. Last month, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley flagged for citizenship review nearly 100,000 Texas voters; in the weeks since, the list has been revealed to be deeply flawed, and civil rights groups have sued the state three times.

There’s still plenty of reason to be wary of the property tax proposals Abbott has made, and one reason why there are fewer red meat items on his agenda is that a lot of them – voter ID, “sanctuary cities”, campus carry – have already been passed. I will agree that this was much more temperate than the address from two years ago – there’s no way Abbott would admit this, but I think Rep. Turner is right in his assessment – and there are issues on Abbott’s list that will get broad bipartisan support. Let’s be glad for the small victories, and work to make them bigger. Ross Ramsey, Texas Monthly, and the Observer have more.

Dick and Wolfe turn on each other

Pass the popcorn.

In this corner…

A trustee on the Harris County Department of Education board who lent money to a fellow trustee’s campaign for justice of the peace has lodged a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission accusing him of failing to report the funds or pay back the loans.

Eric Dick, who serves as vice president of the board, wrote two checks totaling $28,000 to Michael Wolfe shortly before Wolfe lost the May 2018 Republican primary runoff for justice of the peace in Harris County Precinct 5, Place 2, according to the complaint.

Wolfe did not report the loans on his campaign finance report covering the period of the loans or in any other report. He appears to have deposited at least one of the checks in an account with the Harris County Federal Credit Union, which Dick alleged is a personal account and unrelated to Wolfe’s campaign.

And in this corner…

The episode was unexpected, Dick said, because he and Wolfe have known each other since middle school. Dick said Wolfe asked him for campaign loans twice in May, around the time he held a fundraiser for Wolfe at his house. Months later, Dick said, the money seems to have disappeared.

“I’d like him to pay me back. It would be nice if he paid me back,” Dick said. “But at the bare minimum, why didn’t he report it?”

Dick said that when he wrote the checks to Wolfe, the two verbally agreed that the money was given as loans, but did not lay out repayment terms or put anything in writing. Regardless, Wolfe should have reported the funds as a contribution or campaign loans, Dick said.

[…]

“I did consider him a friend,” Dick said when asked about his relationship with Wolfe. “But I think he has some serious problems. I just don’t appreciate the things he does to people.”

I’m sorry, I know I should have something useful to say, but I’m over here giggling like a kindergartner. The only way this could get better is if they both wind up suing each other. Please, please, in the name of all that is unholy and ridiculous, let this continue to be a story through next November’s election.

(Also, too, someone might perhaps alert the HCDE webmaster that their Meet the Board of Trustees page is a tad bit out of date.)

Trying to make “pay for play” an issue

Good luck.

With more than nine months to go until Houston’s municipal elections, Mayor Sylvester Turner’s first two opponents turned their attention this week to limiting political donors’ influence at City Hall.

Both challengers, millionaire lawyer and Texas A&M University System Regent Tony Buzbee and Bill King, the businessman and former Kemah mayor who lost to Turner in a close December 2015 runoff, announced they would spearhead separate petition drives to amend the city charter by temporarily blocking political donors from doing business with the city.

The issue of “pay to play” appears likely to become a focal point in the race for Houston mayor, and could feature prominently in city Council campaigns too, all of which will take place as national Democrats vie for their party’s presidential nomination amid growing calls for politicians to reject money that allegedly comes with strings attached.

Buzbee, in a full-page ad in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle, said he intends to lead a petition drive to bar anyone who donates to a city official from doing business with the city for a year.

King on Monday morning announced a similar idea at a press conference, proposing a two-year moratorium for people who give more than $250 to a city official. His idea would extend the ban to prospective lobbyists and appointees to boards or commissions, and cover candidates for mayor, controller and city council. Buzbee has not yet specified if his proposal would cover non-incumbent candidates.

[…]

“The city has long-established rules that govern potential conflicts of interest regarding campaign contributions, including a black-out period and prohibitions on the members of certain boards and commissions,” Turner said. “As with all city policies, we continually evaluate these rules to ensure they are meeting the city’s needs. The city will always entertain ideas and proposals from anyone, especially if they’re not trying to score political points.“

Houston’s charter bars officials from taking or asking for contributions once the city publicly seeks proposals or bids for a contract. They cannot start accepting bids again until 30 days after City Council awards the contract, or decides not to award it at all.

The same section of the charter also prohibits officials from accepting or soliciting vendors’ contributions at any point they know the vendor has interest in a contract. A separate provision also restricts when candidates who are not in office can accept contributions from vendors.

King’s proposal would prevent people who contribute more than $250 to an official from entering into a contract with the city, registering as a city lobbyist or receiving appointments to city boards of commissions.

I mean, I support the idea, it’s just my experience that this particular issue is not one that gets a whole lot of traction among voters. County Judge Lina Hidalgo is being rightly held up as the model, but you may note that this wasn’t what she campaigned on. She campaigned primarily on bread-and-butter issues like flooding, criminal justice reform, quality of life, and making county government more accessible to more people. I’m not saying this can’t be an effective campaign issue. It’s definitely a meritorious issue. I am saying it’s not the sexiest thing to lead with.

One other thing. At the risk of lapsing into whataboutism, as someone whose mailbox is regularly inflicted with King’s grumpy-old-man emails, his interest in this particular aspect of good government is a tad bit limited. I mean, we just re-elected the heavyweight champion of pay for play politics in this state, but good luck finding any mention of Greg Abbott and his penchant for appointing moneybag donors to statewide positions in King’s missives. Yes, I know, King is running for Mayor and not Governor, but he also regularly complains about the national debt, and last I checked he wasn’t running for Congress or (God help us) President. I know, he’s got his own thing to worry about now, but he was emitting those emails back in 2017 when he wasn’t running for Mayor and Abbott was actively blocking a bipartisan anti-pay for play bill in the Lege. The track record is thin, is what I’m saying.

The Blake Farenthold Memorial Sexual Harassment Bill

That’s what this should be called.

Blake Farenthold

Less than a year after Corpus Christi Republican Blake Farenthold left Congress behind with an $84,000 settlement for sexual harassment, the House and Senate have agreed to make lawmakers pay their own misconduct judgments.

The legislation, which the House and Senate each passed unanimously on Thursday, caps a year of acrimonious debate over how to handle sexual harassment claims on Capitol Hill.

Under the terms of a bipartisan deal reached this week, members of the House and Senate would assume financial liability for settlements and judgments stemming from sexual harassment complaints. Historically, taxpayers have picked up the tab.

The issue came to a head last April when Farenthold, a four-term congressman, resigned amid an Ethics Committee investigation into allegations of improper conduct by at least three former staffers. That followed revelations that Congress had already covered an $84,000 settlement reached in a 2014 harassment suit brought by Lauren Greene, his former communications director.

The payment came to light last December only after House administrators, under pressure in the early months of the #MeToo era, agreed to release summary data on payouts involving Capitol Hill offices.

[…]

While denying any personal wrongdoing in the case, Farenthold initially vowed to repay taxpayers. He later reneged, however, on the “advice of counsel.”

He also refused a request by Gov. Greg Abbott to help defray the estimated $200,000 in expenses for the special election prompted by his early departure. Victoria Republican Mike Cloud was elected to replace him.

Farenthold later took a job lobbying for the Calhoun Port Authority, a move that sparked further controversy because of his involvement as a member of Congress in trying to steer a contract to Randy Boyd, the port’s chairman.

Campaign finance reports also showed that Farenthold, who had a net worth in the millions, spent more than $100,000 from his campaign account on legal bills before and after the Ethics probe.

From the bottom of my heart, Blake: Go fuck yourself.

Use that mandate in Harris County

Jay Aiyer pens an agenda for Harris County and its Democratic government.

First and foremost, flood mitigation has to be at the top of any list. Harris County has taken good initial steps to improve flood control infrastructure, and the passage of flood control bonds was badly needed. Those steps however, are only the beginning of what needs to be done. Development changes that prohibit growth and expansion in the floodplain, and ideas from experts like Rice University’s Raj Makand to impose a moratorium on new municipal utility districts until the region has a comprehensive plan for flood mitigation should be considered. Infrastructure development in Harris County — everything from toll road expansion to affordable housing construction should be factored into flood control efforts. Flood mitigation needs to be the county’s top priority.

[…]

The need for ethics and transparency is also required at the Commissioner’s Court itself. Unlike Houston City Council or the Texas Legislature, Harris County government remains largely shrouded in secrecy. The lack of broad transparency and pro-forma meetings results in a policy process that is largely kept behind closed doors. Commissioners have wide latitude in how business is conducted within their precinct, but that should be governed by a strong ethics policy that requires lobbyists to register and places limits on campaign contributions. A strong government requires one grounded in ethics and transparency.

Access to the ballot box and the integrity of voting process remains a major concern to all voters. Harris County needs a transparent and error-free voter registration process that works to actively register voters. Texas is eliminating straight ticket voting in 2020 and Harris County needs to start preparing for the longer lines and logistical strains that surround the longest electoral ballot in the country. This means expanding the number early voting locations throughout the county, as well as extending the hours of operation. Harris County also needs to follow other Texas counties and create election day voting centers that allow voters to cast a vote at location throughout the county — not just at a precinct.

Part of the improving voting means replacing the outdated machines. The current click-wheel electronic voting system is outdated and slow in handling our long ballot. Harris County needs to invest in modern, verifiable voting machines that can provide confidence in the electoral process while allowing voters to exercise their vote quickly and efficiently. County government has historically worked to make voting more difficult and cumbersome, and these reforms would be a good first step in reversing that.

Finally, Harris County should also revisit initiatives around the expansion of early childcare. In 2013, the well-meaning pre-K training initiative “Early to Rise,” which called for a ballot initiative to expand pre-K training programs, was strongly opposed by outgoing County Judge Ed Emmett and the Republican majority of Commissioner’s Court. While that initial plan was limited in scope, the idea of a regional approach to expanding early child care is one that needs to be explored. Research indicates that investing in early education initiatives are the best way to mitigate the effects of poverty and improve long term educational outcomes. A countywide program may be the smartest long term investment that Harris County could make.

I endorse all of Jay’s idea, which he proposes as a first-100-days plan, and I’d add a few things of my own, none of which need to be done immediately. One is for Harris County to be a more active partner with Metro, and to be fully engaged in the forthcoming transit plan and referendum. There are a lot of ways the county can contribute to better transit, and with everything Metro has going on now, this is the time. Two, continue the work Ed Emmett started in consolidating services with Houston and other cities, and make non-MUD governance a part of that development reform Aiyer outlines. Three, figure out what the office of the Treasurer can and should be doing. Incoming Treasurer Dylan Osborne has his own ideas, of course, but my point is that back in the 90s Commissioners Court basically neutered the office during Don Sumners’ term. Maybe now the time has come to restore some actual power to that office. Other counties have Treasurers, perhaps we should look to them to see if there’s a good model to follow.

I’m sure there are plenty of other ideas. (The parts that I cut out for this excerpt talked about criminal justice and bail reform, some of which have been going on.) Reviving the pre-K proposal is especially something we should all get behind. The point is, there is much that can be done, and no reason to feel restrained by “we’ve always done it that way” thinking. If it’s a good idea, let’s talk about it and figure out if we can make it work. It’s a new era in Harris County.

Police raid Jared Woodfill’s office

Oh, my.

Authorities on Monday raided the law office of former Harris County Republican Party chairman Jared Woodfill.

Investigators with the Harris County District Attorney’s office wheeled carts of documents from Woodfill’s office at 3 Riverway at least an hour after they arrived.

[…]

Woodfill is the subject of two separate formal complaints — one to the State Bar of Texas and the other to the Houston Police Department. In both complaints, Woodfill is accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients’ trust accounts.

In the criminal complaint, filed in March 2017, Richard Rodriguez accused Woodfill’s firm of stealing more than $300,000 from a divorce trust account. Rodriguez said Monday he believed the search was related to his complaint.

Oh, my, my.

Documents show Woodfill was reprimanded by the state bar two months ago for failure to take reasonable action in another divorce case.

The state bar, which oversees lawyers, ordered him to take classes in billing, trust accounts or law practice management.

All of that on top of two other civil cases in which opponents recently demanded Woodfill pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid fees.

It’s too early to say what all this is about. We don’t even know for certain that Woodfill himself is the subject of any investigation. But, um, none of this looks great.

Blake Farenthold is still a toad

In case you were wondering.

Blake Farenthold

A former Texas congressman had tried steering a federal contract to the owner of a business who gave him a $160,000-a-year job after the congressman resigned amid sexual harassment allegations, according to a newspaper investigation published Sunday.

Republican Blake Farenthold resigned in April amid bipartisan pressure over revelations that he used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a lawsuit brought by a former aide who accused him of sexual harassment. A month after leaving Congress, Farenthold was hired as the lobbyist for the Calhoun Port Authority on the Texas coast. His hiring was directed by port chairman Randy Boyd, who owns a dredging company called RLB Contracting and was a political donor to Farenthold.

Emails obtained by the Victoria Advocate show that Farenthold’s office arranged a meeting in May 2015 between Boyd and the Army Corps of Engineers about a government project. Federal officials took the meeting but declined working with Boyd’s company, citing ethical and environmental rules, after which Farenthold’s office followed up with the Corps by to see “if there is anything our office can do to be helpful (to the Corps) and Mr. Boyd.”

Boyd donated $5,000 to Farenthold’s campaign a day after the congressman’s office began arranging a meeting for him with the Corps, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Also, too:

Months after he resigned from Congress, former Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) is still blaming the #MeToo movement for the congressional investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed women in his office.

[…]

In an August 1 deposition over the recent lawsuit, a transcript of which was obtained and first reported by HuffPost, Farenthold says he “took a bullet for the team” by resigning from Congress. He blames the #MeToo movement, members of the media whom he calls “f tards,” as well as the House Ethics Committee for not caring about facts.

“I believe the public attention to the Me Too movement created a public environment where it would be much more difficult for the members of the Ethics Committee to separate politics from the facts,” Farenthold said, after being asked about previous comments where he had similarly blamed the movement.

Elsewhere in the deposition, he says that the committee was likely looking for a “scapegoat” and believes the entire investigation was a witch hunt.

He also said “f tards” — whom he defines as “A-S-S-E-S” and people in the media — for the investigation into his harassment of women who worked in his office.

Farenthold said he hasn’t paid the government back the $84,000 he used to settle a private lawsuit because his lawyers told him not to. “I can’t legally repay the government to do that,” he said. “I have been advised by multiple attorneys I cannot do that even if I wanted to.”

When further pressed on why he hadn’t donated a similar sum to a charity that works on sexual harassment issues, as he had previously promised to do, Farenthold again said that his lawyers told him not to. He said he was worried about “legislation pending in Congress” targeting sexual offenders in Congress that could authorize the government to take the money from his retirement plan.

“So your concern was that you might have to pay back the 84,000 twice, once back to the taxpayers and also to a nonprofit?” John Griffin, attorney for the Virginia advocate, asks him.

“Yes, sir,” Farenthold responds.

As HuffPost noted, the legislation Farenthold is referring to hasn’t moved forward in Congress, and neither the bill in the Senate or the House would affect him anyway. Only the House version would allow the government to pull the funds from a lawmaker’s Social Security or retirement plan, and it does not apply to past cases.

I take it back. Calling Blake Farenthold a toad is unfair to toads, who have done nothing to deserve such an insult. The bottom line here is don’t be like Blake Farenthold.

No set-aside for Stockman

Sorry, Stevie.

Best newspaper graphic ever

A Texas federal judge has declined to set aside a jury’s conviction of former U.S. Rep. Stephen Stockman, R-Texas, who was found guilty in April of funneling what were solicited as charitable contributions into accounts that funded political campaigns and personal expenses, holding there was plenty of evidence to support the outcome.

Stockman’s defense team asked Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal for an acquittal in May, after a jury convicted Stockman, 60, who was indicted in March 2017, on 23 of 24 counts and acquitted him on one count of wire fraud. Jurors deliberated for a little more than 15 hours over three days before returning their unanimous verdict in the trial that began with jury selection on March 19.

The former congressman’s attorneys argued in their motion that he’s entitled to an acquittal because a “reasonable-minded jury” couldn’t have seen the evidence presented at trial and concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty. What the evidence did show, they argued, is that the wealthy conservative mega-donors Stockman was accused of defrauding — the now-deceased Stanford Z. Rothschild Jr. and Richard Uihlein — knew what Stockman was intending to use the funds for.

Stockman argued that while the evidence may have shown he was complicit in an illegal scheme involving campaign donations, it doesn’t show that he defrauded the rich donors who he alleges were “knowing participants.”

In her order issued Wednesday, Judge Rosenthal rejected that argument, noting that the government put Uihlein on the stand during the trial, and he testified he was misled about how the funds would be used.

“The evidence was sufficient for a jury to reasonably conclude that Stockman intended to defraud Uihlein,” the judge wrote. “The clear weight of the evidence supported the convictions. The jury credited Uihlein’s explanation and description of what Stockman told him and what he knew, believed, and expected as a result. The jury clearly did not believe the evidence that Stockman’s counsel cites to make the argument about Uihlein’s ‘real’ motive.”

See here for the background. Stockman remains in custody until he receives his sentence on August 17. I’m never going to get tired of these updates.

Stockman remains in custody

So sorry.

Best newspaper graphic ever

A federal judge ruled for the second time that former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman is a flight risk and ordered him to remain in federal custody while he awaits sentencing in an elaborate $1.25 million fraud scheme.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ordered the former GOP lawmaker detained in April after his conviction, following a four-week jury trial, on 23 criminal counts, including mail and wire fraud, violating federal election law, making excessive campaign contributions and lying on a federal tax return.

Stockman’s attorneys asked last week that their 61-year-old client, who is diabetic, be permitted to be free on restricted bond so that that he can seek “necessary medical attention and treatment prior to sentencing.” His lawyers said in court documents he had not been receiving sufficient medical attention at the Joe Corley Detention Center in Conroe and he hoped to get evaluations and treatment in advance of his sentencing scheduled for August 17.

[…]

In denying the request, the judge said she would instruct the U.S. Marshals Service to work with the staff at the detention facility to ensure that Stockman receives the treatment and medication he needs.

Rosenthal explained in her terse four-page order that Stockman, who used Bitcoin and burner phones and helped an aide avoid FBI detection for years in Egypt, did not meet his burden to convince her he is not a flight risk.

See here for some background. I hate to make light of someone’s misfortune, but I daresay this is an example of someone’s reputation preceding them. Given the potential sentence he was facing, I’d consider him a flight risk, too.

Stockman asks for his verdict to be set aside

Never know till you ask, right?

Best newspaper graphic ever

Attorneys representing former U.S. Rep. Stephen Stockman, R-Texas, who was found guilty in April of funneling what were solicited as charitable contributions into accounts that instead funded political campaigns and personal expenses, have asked the court to set aside the jury’s conviction in the case citing a lack of evidence.

Stockman’s defense team filed the motion asking Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal for an acquittal on Monday. A jury convicted Stockman, 60, who was indicted in March 2017, on 23 of 24 counts, acquitting him on one count of wire fraud. Jurors deliberated for a little more than 15 hours over three days before returning their unanimous verdict in the trial that began with jury selection on March 19.

[…]

The former congressman’s attorneys argued in the motion that he’s entitled to an acquittal because the evidence presented at trial “could not be accepted by a reasonable-minded jury as adequate and sufficient to support a guilty verdict beyond a reasonable doubt.” Instead, the evidence showed that the wealthy conservative mega-donors Stockman was accused of defrauding — the now-deceased Stanford Z. Rothschild Jr. and Richard Uihlein — knew what Stockman was intending to use the funds for, according to the motion.

“With respect to fraudulent intent, the evidence must show Mr. Stockman had a conscious, knowing intent to defraud and that he contemplated or intended some harm to the property rights of the victim,” the motion argued. “The government has not established this.”

Sean Buckley, who represents Stockman, had told reporters immediately after the verdict there would be an appeal in the case. He reiterated arguments presented for the jury that the funds came from donors who knew the congressman would be using the money “to finance Mr. Stockman’s political work and his projects.”

See here for the background. The motion was made to the trial judge, Judge Lee Rosenthal, who I presume will rule on it before sentencing, which is scheduled for August 17. I can’t imagine this sort of motion works very often, but I suppose it’s a prelude to the eventual appeal. I’ll keep my eyes open for further developments.

Blake Farenthold is a gift that keeps on giving

Oh, Blake.

Blake Farenthold

Nearly a month after abruptly resigning from Congress in the wake of revelations over lewd and verbally abusive behavior, former Corpus Christi Rep. Blake Farenthold had been angling for several days to get a lobbying job at a port authority in his district.

And he appeared to be getting antsy.

“What’s up with the lawyers?” Farenthold wrote to Calhoun Port Authority director Charles Hausmann in an April 30 email, which was obtained by The Dallas Morning News through an open records request. “I’m ready to get work for y’all.

“Any problems that I should know about?”

Farenthold ended up landing the gig this month.  He  started Monday as a $160,000-a-year legislative liaison who will seek to boost the port’s “presence and visibility in Washington.”

The new position — which Farenthold announced in a radio interview — has created a stir in South Texas and beyond, in no small part because the former congressman said this week that he would not repay $84,000 in taxpayer money used to settle a sexual harassment suit against him.

Never stop never stopping.

Asked Friday about a news report that said former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold’s recent hiring as a lobbyist for the Port of Port Lavaca may have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act, the Republican said he “wasn’t involved.”

The Victoria Advocate reported Friday that Farenthold’s hiring may have been illegal since the notice posted by the Calhoun Port Authority, which oversees the port, was too vague in describing what was going to be said at a closed meeting where the former congressman’s hiring was discussed.

“I’m trying to get on with my life. I wasn’t involved other than I talked to them about a job. I don’t know anything about it,” Farenthold said after an event hosted by The Texas Tribune. “I’m not talking to reporters. I’m a private citizen now.”

According to the Advocate, the posting said the board would meet “for the purposes of deliberating the appointment, employment, compensation, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline or dismissal of a public officer or employee.” But the Texas Supreme Court ruled that these notices need to be specific when they concern high-profile people.

Like flies to a garbage can, you know? Some people just have a knack for this sort of thing.

Farenthold, in a brief phone interview, said that he’s “a private citizen now” and is “trying to not be a news item anymore.” He declined to comment on what the Florida reference meant. He didn’t dispute the general timeline for how he obtained his new employment.

“I started looking for a job as soon as I was out of office,” he said.

Heck of a job not being a news item, dude. Maybe next time check and see if Chili’s is hiring first.

Farenthold finds a trough

It’s the circle of life.

Blake Farenthold

Former Republican U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold has accepted a lucrative position lobbying for a port in his ex-Texas district — mere weeks after resigning in disgrace amid fallout from using public funds to settle a past sexual harassment complaint.

The Calhoun Port Authority announced Monday that Farenthold would promote its interests in Washington and assist “in resolving funding issues.”

“Blake has always been a strong supporter of the Calhoun Port Authority and is familiar with the issues facing the port,” it said in a statement. Port Director Charles R. Hausmann said Farenthold’s annual salary will be $160,000.

The port is located in the Gulf Coast community of Point Comfort, an area hit by Hurricane Harvey last summer.

A former Farenthold congressional staffer didn’t return messages seeking comment Monday, but the ex-congressman himself told radio station KKTX that he’d taken a job about a 90-minute drive from his home in Corpus Christi.

We should all be so fortuitous with our employment prospects. And just to prove that it’s better to be lucky than good, there’s this:

Former House members are prohibited from acting as lobbyists for at least one year after leaving office. But there’s a loophole: The lobbying restrictions do not apply to employees or officials of federal, state or local governments. Since the port is run by the government, Farenthold does not have to abide by the mandatory one-year “cooling-off” period.

Life sure is beautiful, ain’t it?

Farenthold tells Abbott to go pound sand

Well, what did you expect?

Blake Farenthold

Blake Farenthold — a disgraced former Texas congressman who resigned last month — will not fund the special election to replace himself, he told Gov. Greg Abbott in a letter Wednesday, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Abbott had asked that Farenthold pay for the election, set for June 30, as a form of recompense: Farenthold resigned in April, months after it came to light that he had settled a sexual harassment claim from a former staffer with $84,000 of taxpayer money.

That payment mechanism is allowed under federal law but has nonetheless drawn sharp criticism on both sides of the aisle since it was uncovered last fall. Farenthold had originally pledged to repay that sum to taxpayers, but has yet to do so, claiming he is acting on the advice of his lawyers.

Farenthold, who is worth well over $2 million, according to a recent financial disclosure form, has now said he won’t pay for the election either.

“Since I didn’t call it and I don’t think it’s necessary, I shouldn’t be asked to pay for it,” his letter said.

See here for the background, and here for a longer version of that Chron story. I’m actually kind of glad there isn’t a copy of the letter to share, because the various closings I can imagine him using – “See you in hell”, “Kiss my grits“, “Insincerely yours” – are all way more entertaining to me than what he no doubt actually used. The point here is that just as Congress can’t touch Farenthold for the $84K he swiped, neither can Abbott for the special election that he insisted (quite reasonably, in my opinion) on calling. And Farenthold damn well knows this, which when combined with his utter lack of shame or conscience, is how we got here. See you in hell, indeed.

UPDATE: Okay, fine, you can see the letter here.

Abbott wants to send Farenthold a bill for the CD27 special election

Good luck with that.

Blake Farenthold

Gov. Greg Abbott is demanding that former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold “cover all costs” of the special election to fill his seat using the $84,000 the Corpus Christi Republican used to settle a sexual harassment claim years ago.

Farenthold, who abruptly resigned earlier this month, had promised to pay back the $84,000 — which came out of a taxpayer-funded account — after that settlement was made public last year but hasn’t so far.

In a letter to Farenthold on Wednesday, Abbott said the former congressman should return the money to taxpayers by funding the June 30 special election to finish his term.

“While you have publicly offered to reimburse the $84,000 in taxpayer funds you wrongly used to settle a sexual harassment claim, there is no legal recourse requiring you to give that money back to Congress,” Abbott wrote. “I am urging you to give those funds back to the counties in your district to cover the costs of the June 30, 2018, special election.”

“This seat must be filled, and the counties and taxpayers in the 27th Congressional District should not again pay the price for your actions,” Abbott added. He requested a response from Farenthold by May 2.

See here and here for the background. We all understand that this is just a stunt by Abbott, right? He has no more leverage over Farenthold than the Office of Congressional Ethics does at this point. Farenthold was never afflicted with a sense of shame before, and there’s no reason to think he will be afflicted by it going forward. It’s a feel-good maneuver by Abbott, and honestly I can’t blame him for it – if Wendy Davis were Governor today, she might well have sent a similar letter – but that’s all it is. That letter will have as much effect on Faranthold’s actions as any of my blog posts have had.

Someone needs to sue Blake Farenthold

That’s my response to this.

Blake Farenthold

Four months after U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold promised to repay an $84,000 sexual harassment settlement funded by taxpayers — and 11 days after the Republican resigned his Corpus Christi seat — he has yet to write a check. And with Farenthold out of public office and increasingly out of the public eye, there’s little anyone can do to force him.

Farenthold pledged last winter to personally repay the cash paid out by the federal government to a former staffer, Lauren Greene, who sued him for sexual harassment in 2014. When news of the settlement surfaced in December, Farenthold told a local TV station he’d reimburse the money that same week, saying “I didn’t do anything wrong, but I also don’t want taxpayers to be on the hook for this.” In January, he said he would wait to repay the money after seeing what changes Congress would make to policies around the issue, saying he wanted to seek legal counsel.

Then, he resigned abruptly on April 6 — days before the House Ethics Committee, which was investigating his misconduct, would have released its findings in his case, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who has led efforts to reform Congress’s sexual harassment complaint process. After leaving public office, he immediately shut down his social media accounts and went silent. Requests for comment to his former staff were not returned.

The House committee no longer has jurisdiction to investigate Farenthold, though its members called on him “in the strongest possible terms” to return the money. But there’s no legal avenue to force Farenthold to repay the money — meaning the only option is “public shame,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

“He does not seem like someone who is easily shamed,” Libowitz said. “When this came to light, he said that he would pay it back, then started looking for more and more reasons to delay the payment. It became pretty clear that if he wasn’t forced to pay it back — which legally he’s not required to — he didn’t seem all that interested in it.”

See here and here for the background. The story doesn’t even mention the possibility of a lawsuit, so I could be completely out to lunch here – as we well know, I Am Not A Lawyer. All I can say is that some crazier lawsuits than what I am suggesting have gotten traction in the courts lately, so why not take a shot at it? Surely there’s a taxpayer out there with some time on their hands and the desire to throw a little sand in Blake Farenthold’s gears.

Stockman convicted

Turn out the lights, the party’s over.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman — a political maverick once viewed as a champion of right-wing causes — was taken into federal custody Thursday after a jury convicted him of masterminding a wide-ranging fraud scheme that diverted $1.25 million in charitable donations from wealthy conservative philanthropists to cover personal expenses and campaign debts.

After deliberating more than 15 hours over three days, the jury found Stockman guilty on 23 counts of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Elections Commission and money laundering. The jury found him not guilty on one count of wire fraud.

Stockman, 61, of Clear Lake, who served two non-consecutive terms as a Republican congressman in separate southeast Texas districts, showed no reaction to the jury’s verdict. His wife, Patti, watched from the courtroom gallery, as did U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ruled that Stockman was a flight risk and she ordered him taken into custody by U.S. marshals. Stockman faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each of the fraud charges alone. Sentencing is set for Aug. 17.

I feel like my whole life has been leading up to this moment. I may have some coherent thoughts about this in a day or so, but until then let me go a little medieval Latin on you:

O Fortuna
velut luna
statu variabilis,
semper crescis
aut decrescis;
vita detestabilis
nunc obdurat
et tunc curat
ludo mentis aciem,
egestatem,
potestatem
dissolvit ut glaciem.

That’s all I’ve got for now. The Trib and RG Ratcliffe, who recalls some of Stockman’s greatest hits, have more.

Stockman trial: Off to the jury

Please return a verdict.

Best newspaper graphic ever

The defense team for former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman told jurors Monday the ex- GOP lawmaker did not plot a massive fraud scheme, but said the government should have targeted two wealthy conservative donors for making illegal campaign contributions disguised as charitable gifts.

“The true motives of his donors … was to fund Stockman, his political activities and his projects without being restricted,” said attorney Charles Flood, referring to $1.25 million in tax deductible donations Stockman is accused of diverting to pay off personal and campaign costs.

Flood said investigators “believed early on this was a fraud case and they retrofitted it. They formed a conclusion and tried to back into it.”

Flood and two other defense lawyers — who are being compensated by an anonymous Stockman friend — argued that while the two-time Republican lawmaker spent some of the seed money he solicited on an array of unrelated expenses, he did not deliberately trick the donors into giving him money nor attempt to cover his tracks after the money was gone.

See here for the last update. So Stockman isn’t guilty of money laundering, just of participating in a scheme to evade campaign finance law. Unwittingly, I guess – we all know how naive he is. I got nothing. Let’s just keep going.

In closing, prosecution stressed there was no evidence to prove the defense claims that these donors meant to break the law when they made donations to what they believed were genuine charities.

In all, prosecutors questioned dozens of witnesses over three weeks of testimony — including an IRS investigator, a forensic accountant for the FBI and Stockman’s own accountant — to back their theory that between 2010 and 2014 Stockman systematically planned to use the donations money however he wanted and then lied to cover it up.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Ellersick walked the jury through a series of transactions, pointing out that Stockman, a trained accountant whom a former assistant described as a “micromanger,” stated in his own words in emails, texts and letters that he knew exactly what he was doing.

Ellersick quoted Stockman’s letter to a doubtful government minister in South Sudan, who was questioning a humanitarian donation that included a percentage fee for the former congressman. Stockman stated in the letter, “My experience is vast … I know what I am doing,” and assured the official that while some people might be untrustworthy, his reputation was impeccable. “Leopards don’t change their spots,” Stockman wrote.

As someone who has followed Steve Stockman’s career for nearly a quarter-century, I do agree with that. I’m on ping and needles till a verdict comes in. The Trib has more.

Farenthold resigns

So long, Ducky.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, resigned on Friday.

The decision marks the capstone of a tumultuous few months for the four-term congressman, who has been dogged by sexual harassment allegations and an ongoing ethics investigation.

“While I planned on serving out the remainder of my term in Congress, I know in my heart it’s time for me to move along and look for new ways to serve,” he said in a statement that offered no further explanation for why he was not completing the final eight months of his term.

The congressman spent the day packing up his office.

[…]

Gov. Greg Abbott now needs to call a special election to fill the seat, the winner of which will serve until early January 2019.

Abbott has two options for filling Farenthold’s seat for the rest of his term, according to the secretary of state’s office. Abbott can schedule a special election on the next uniform election date, which is Nov. 6. (It’s too late for him to call it for the May 5 date.)

Abbott’s other option is to order an emergency election for any other Tuesday or Saturday. He would have to call the election 36-50 days in advance of the date he chooses.

House Republicans likely have no appetite for a special election at this point in the cycle. But one thing the governor’s office will have to weigh is whether Texas’ 27th Congressional District — which bore the brunt of Hurricane Harvey — can go without congressional representation for seven months.

Farenthold announced his retirement in December, and despite some controversy around the timing of his announcement he was allowed to drop off the ballot for the primary. As for what Greg Abbott does, in a normal year he’d call an emergency special at his first opportunity, as the odds would be extremely favorable for a Republican candidate to win and thus maintain numbers in Congress. This year, who knows? I still think we’ll get an election sooner than November, but if we don’t it’s quite the admission of weakness. In the meantime, I hope someone will remind Farenthold to pay back the $84,000 he owes the taxpayers before he slinks off into the darkness. Daily Kos has more.

Stockman trial update: Defense rests

And we’re done.

Best newspaper graphic ever

The defense rested its case Thursday in ex-GOP congressman Steve Stockman’s federal campaign fraud trial, after calling only two witnesses who together testified for less than an hour.

The former Republican lawmaker from Clear Lake told the judge presiding over his trial that he did not intend to testify in his own defense.

[…]

After court adjourned, Stockman’s defense team explained to reporters they would have called many more than two witnesses if the rules of evidence didn’t preclude Stockman to put on broader testimony about his reputation, work ethic and charitable work.

On Thursday, the final witness in the trial was Stevie Bidjoua Sianard-Roc, who had flown in from Africa to testify and took the stand for 38 minutes. She testified about several trips Stockman made to the Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo to meet with government ministers, discuss social issues and in one case deliver three boxes of medicine to a local hospital in which she served as his translator. In one instance, she said, Stockman donated an iPad to her husband.

“In Africa, Steve is like family to us,” Sianard-Roc told the jury.

Under cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Ellersick, the Sianard-Roc said she was not aware that Stockman was also working on a deal in the region with an oil company and hoped to meet with an oil minister there.

See here for the previous update. This whole trial has been amazing, but the thing that really stands out to me is how unimpressive the defense seems to be. Maybe it just hasn’t come through in the reporting, but I haven’t seen much to rebut any of the prosecution’s evidence. The defense seems to boil down to twenty-plus-year-politician Stockman is a naive dupe, and people in Africa like him. It feels more like what you’d put on during the sentencing hearing. Like I said, maybe there was more to it than the stories conveyed. Closing arguments are Monday, and then we’ll see. What do you think?

Stockman trial update: The prosecution abides

From Monday:

Best newspaper graphic ever

The second of two key government witnesses took the stand late Monday in Houston in the federal fraud trial of former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman, telling jurors his main duty on the ex-lawmaker’s staff was to “just do what I’m told.”

[…]

On the stand Monday, [Jason] Posey told the jury he had previously pleaded guilty to wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering.

Both [Thomas] Dodd and Posey knew Stockman through his work with the conservative Leadership Institute, an Arlington nonprofit that trains youth in grassroots organizing.

Posey, 47, who now works as a fry cook at Spuds in Tupelo, Miss., said he worked for Stockman on-and-off since his unsuccessful bid for re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996. He helped with Stockman’s failed campaign for Texas Railroad Commissioner in 1998 and lived among other volunteers in Stockman’s ramshackle campaign headquarters, a former motorcycle repair shop in Webster, during Stockman’s victorious 2012 campaign for the Congress.

Stockman then tapped him to be a congressional staffer in Washington. But when new employees were going around the room introducing themselves by their new titles at a preliminary staff meeting, Posey did not mention that he would be a liaison working on special projects.

Instead, he testified,“I stood and said, ‘I’m Jason Posey and I just do what I’m told.’”

He told the jury he knew nothing about Stockman’s major donors, although he helped the ex-congressman set up a failed charity, which Stockman later used to solicit donations, according to testimony from other witnesses.

See here for the last update. I don’t have anything to add to this, so let’s move on. From Tuesday:

After two and a half years dodging federal investigators by fleeing to Egypt, former congressional aide Jason Posey came to the painful realization that his boss, two-time Republican congressman Steve Stockman, was going to blame him for the elaborate fraud scheme they had orchestrated, he told a federal jury Tuesday.

“He told me, ‘You’re going to take the blame for everything’ and he was going to run for office,” Posey testified, adding that Stockman promised to look after him after Posey was convicted. “That was when I realized that I had been a complete fool for trusting Mr. Stockman and he never intended to keep his pledge.”

That pledge, according to Posey, was that if their questionable use of charitable donations came to light Stockman “would come clean about everything” and protect him and another devoted congressional staffer.

[…]

During Stockman’s successful 2012 campaign for the House of Representatives and his failed 2014 bid to unseat Texas Republican John Cornyn for Senate, Posey said he helped filter charitable donations to conservative 501c3 nonprofit groups. Posey testified he helped Stockman set up sham charities and associated bank accounts, which Stockman directed him to use to pay off campaign expenses and personal debts.

He wrote checks, set up bank accounts and moved the money, as Stockman told him, into shadowy charities, including one called the Egyptian American Friendship Society and another entitled Life Without Limits, supposedly dedicated to helping people recover from trauma, so the spending would look like it was coming from charitable groups, according to his testimony.

You really have to admire the dedication to these schemes. There’s no length Stockman (allaegedly) wouldn’t go to for the money. Imagine how much he could have gotten done if he’d applied that kind of work ethic to something productive.

And finally, from Wednesday, when the prosecution finished and the defense got started.

The prosecution ended its case by calling back to the stand FBI Special Agent Leanna Saler, to explain to the jury how Stockman used Bitcoin to forward funds to Posey who had fled to Egypt to avoid investigators and the purchases of so-called “burner phones” which were used to discuss an improper campaign donation, according to Posey’s testimony. Both were difficult for law enforcement to trace, Saler testified.

Defense lawyer Sean Buckley asked whether the Bitcoin transactions were charged in Stockman’s indictment. Saler said no. The ATM withdrawals Stockman made in Switzerland and Cairo were also not included in the charges, she testified.

Under further questioning from Buckley, the agent stated that the FBI never investigated the two mega-donors who gave Stockman the charitable contributions that were later diverted to pay personal and campaign editors.

After the government ended its presentation, Stockman’s lawyers called Callie Beck as their first witness to begin their defense of the charges. The court adjourned shortly after Beck’s testimony to await the expected arrival of another witness who Stockman’s lawyers said was flying in from the Republic of Congo to testify about the GOP lawmakers work shipping medicine to developing countries.

Beck was on the stand less than 10 minutes in all, detailing what she did during a summer program Stockman paid for with a charitable donation. She said the Summit, a two-week camp in Colorado run by a Christian organization, involved lectures and team building for youths before entering college.

Under cross examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Annis, Beck acknowledged she was not familiar with Freedom House, a housing and training program for Capitol Hill interns.

Yes of course I blogged about it when Stockman announced he would accept Bitcoin for his campaign. I mean, come on. The defense is expected to take just a couple of days, with the case wrapping up early next week. I can’t wait to see what this other witness has to say.

Stockman trial update: Tanning salons and dolphin boat rides

I love this trial so much. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, about the grifter we all deserve.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman spent $450,000 in charitable funds from an East Coast philanthropist on personal expenses including dolphin boat rides, tanning salons, a kennel bill, a new dishwasher and airline tickets to the African nation of Sudan, according to an FBI forensic accountant who testified Wednesday in Stockman’s fraud trial.

In all, the ex-Republican lawmaker from Clear Lake is charged in a federal indictment with siphoning off $1.25 million in donations meant for charitable causes, between 2010 and 2014, through a series of bank transfers, to pay personal and campaign costs.

Stockman’s defense lawyers counter that while Stockman may not have spent his funds wisely, he didn’t break the law. His defense team has grilled a series of prosecution witnesses from the IRS and FBI about why they didn’t investigate the major donors about the intent behind their major transactions.

[…]

An FBI accountant followed the path Rothschild’s money took in Stockman’s possession, including credit card bills for trips, department store expenses and SkyMall purchases.

See here, here, and here for earlier updates. The only thing better than the witness testimony has been the defense’s explanations of the testimony. Who among us hasn’t accidentally used a few thousand dollars intended for charity – really, more like “charity” in this case – for kennel bills and Skymall purchases? Could happen to anyone, really.

And that was just Wednesday. Here’s Thursday.

Thomas Dodd, a top aide to former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman, spent six hours on the witness stand at his ex-boss’ fraud trial Thursday, explaining how he was instructed to land big donations from heavyweight contributors, help funnel that money into shell accounts and then assist in an elaborate coverup.

[…]

He told the jury his role during Stockman’s political ascent was to help set up meetings with some of the country’s biggest GOP donors. During part of this time, Dodd himself was often deep in debt and lived for a time in a former motorcycle repair shop in Webster that served as Stockman’s campaign headquarters.

Dodd testified about a series of donations, money transfers and trips spanning the globe that he made on Stockman’s behalf.

There were two conservative megadonors who wrote the checks that prosecutors say financed the spending spree. The biggest was Richard Uihlein, a shipping supplies magnate from the Chicago area who gave $800,000, and Stanford Z. Rothschild Jr., a Baltimore money manager who died in 2017, who gave $450,000. Prosecutors say the donations went to charities controlled by Stockman, some of which did not qualify as nonprofits despite he promises to donors.

Dodd helped arrange meetings with donors, attended them with Stockman and followed up on collecting the funds. He testified that Stockman repeatedly assured Uihlein his donation would go toward establishing Freedom House, a house on Capitol Hill that would be converted as a residence and training center for young conservatives.

Similarly, Dodd said, Stockman promised Rothschild at the meetings and in related correspondence his foundation’s money would be spent targeting conservative voters with tabloid-style mailings that would promote their shared conservative policy agenda.

Within days of depositing Rothschild’s donation checks, Stockman began paying off old credit card bills, Dodd testified.

[…]

After Uihlein’s $350,000 donation cleared the bank, Stockman asked Dodd and Posey, the other aide who pleaded guilty, to donate to his campaign account, according to Dodd’s testimony. Stockman said he couldn’t donate to himself as a sitting congressman, but he would give his aides money to write him checks, Dodd said.

Dodd testified that he told Stockman he also couldn’t make a donation under federal election law, explaining to Stockman he had just learned in the House ethics training that staffers cannot donate to their member of congress.

Dodd said Stockman told him not to worry.

“Mr. Stockman explained that no one would find out, and if someone did find out about it, he would take the fall,” Dodd said.

First of all, like I said, “charity”. Second, I don’t know that this qualifies as an “elaborate” coverup. The villains in the Scooby-Do cartoons had more intricate schemes. More likely to succeed, too. There’s a punchline to this story that I won’t spoil – go click over and read the Chron article to the end.

I don’t see any updates from Friday, but Courthouse News has more on Dodd’s testimony, including this curious exchange from the cross examination:

During cross-examination, Stockman’s attorney tried to portray Stockman as an ambitious, hapless man who often gets in over his head.

“Would you agree that Stockman can be prone to biting off bigger projects than he can chew?” Buckley asked.

“That’s correct,” Dodd said.

“Would you agree that Stockman, in many situations, or in some situations, has genuinely good ideas that somehow fail in the follow-through stage? You agree with that, right?” Buckley asked.

“I don’t know if I agree with that characterization,” Dodd said.

“Do you disagree?”

“Yes.”

“Explain, sir, why you disagree.”

“Because I’ve known Mr. Stockman for a fair number of years. I met him after he ran for Congress the first time, but my understanding was that he did something significant with organizing to get elected to Congress the first time,” Dodd said.

He continued: “When I was at the Leadership Institute he mobilized 1,000 college groups; he had 100 people working for him that were organizing these groups. It was a monumental task and it was a significant achievement for the organization. So I wouldn’t characterize that he has not been successful in organizing things that people didn’t think were possible.”

Stockman first worked with Dodd from 2005 to 2007 at the conservative Leadership Institute, as director of its campus leadership program.

You know that old adage about lawyers not asking questions they don’t already know the answers to? This is an example of why that’s a thing. There’s still another week of this trial to go. My cup runneth over. TPM has more.

JP Hilary Green resigns

Wise decision.

The Harris County justice of the peace accused of paying prostitutes for sex, abusing drugs while on the bench and sexting a bailiff officially resigned this week – although her attorney says it has nothing to do with the claims against her.

Hilary Green had already been temporarily suspended by the Texas Supreme Court and was headed for trial next month to determine her judicial future. But on Tuesday – even as lawyers worked to prepare for the upcoming Austin court date – the long-time Precinct 7 jurist sent a letter to Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, announcing her decision to leave the bench.

“Effective immediately, please allow this letter to serve as my formal resignation from my position as Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 1,” Green wrote. “Due to the unexpected death of my father and my mother’s newly diagnosed illness, it is important for me to focus all my attention on my family.”

Green’s attorney, Chip Babcock, emphasized that his client’s departure was motivated solely by personal considerations.

“It is totally unrelated to the charges which she continues to deny and contest,” he told the Chronicle Thursday. The pending proceedings to unseat her – and lack of income, given her suspension without pay – took a toll on her, according to Babcock.

[…]

In light of Green’s resignation, county commissioners are expected to appoint a replacement who will serve until November 2018. Voters in the November election will then decide on her successor. Her term would have expired in 2020.

The political parties will in the coming months determine which candidates will be on the ballot.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis will likely select the interim appointment.

“Commissioner Rodney Ellis will consult with community leaders and legal experts to select a qualified candidate,” an Ellis spokesman said. “He plans to have a candidate to submit to Commissioners Court for approval on April 10.”

See here and here for the background. I’m mostly interested in what happens next, as I don’t think we’ve seen a situation exactly like this recently. Robert Eckels, Paul Bettencourt, Charles Bacarisse, Jerry Eversole, and most recently Adrian Garcia all resigned from county offices, but they did so in odd-numbered years, meaning there was plenty of time for people to file and run in the primaries for those offices. Jack Abercia already had a slate of primary opponents when he announced his intent to not run for re-election, prior to his tour of the criminal justice system. El Franco Lee died in January of 2016, a year in which he was on the ballot and was the only person who had filed for his position. Due to the timing of that, he remained on the primary ballot, then we went through that process to replace him as the nominee via the precinct chair process.

Hilary Green was not scheduled to be on the ballot this year; she was elected to a four-year term in 2016. The primaries are over, so that’s not an option. I suppose we could have a special election as we would for a legislator who left office mid-term, but the phrasing of that “political parties will…determine which candidates will be on the ballot” sentence suggests we’re in for another precinct chair selection process. I wanted to be sure about that, so off to the Texas Statutes website I go. First, in the case of the interim appointment, Section 28 of the Texas Constitution says:

Sec. 28. VACANCY IN JUDICIAL OFFICE. (a) A vacancy in the office of Chief Justice, Justice, or Judge of the Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Court of Appeals, or the District Courts shall be filled by the Governor until the next succeeding General Election for state officers, and at that election the voters shall fill the vacancy for the unexpired term.

(b) A vacancy in the office of County Judge or Justice of the Peace shall be filled by the Commissioners Court until the next succeeding General Election.

Clear enough. But how is that next succeeding General Election to be conducted? I turn to Election Code, Title 12 “Elections to fill vacancy in office”, Chapter 202 “Vacancy in office of state or county government”:

Sec. 202.001. APPLICABILITY OF CHAPTER. This chapter applies to elective offices of the state and county governments except the offices of state senator and state representative.

Sec. 202.002. VACANCY FILLED AT GENERAL ELECTION. (a) If a vacancy occurs on or before the 74th day before the general election for state and county officers held in the next-to-last even-numbered year of a term of office, the remainder of the unexpired term shall be filled at the next general election for state and county officers, as provided by this chapter.

(b) If a vacancy occurs after the 74th day before a general election day, an election for the unexpired term may not be held at that general election. The appointment to fill the vacancy continues until the next succeeding general election and until a successor has been elected and has qualified for the office.

[…]

Sec. 202.004. NOMINATION BY PRIMARY ELECTION. (a) A political party’s nominee for an unexpired term must be nominated by primary election if:

(1) the political party is making nominations by primary election for the general election in which the vacancy is to be filled; and

(2) the vacancy occurs on or before the fifth day before the date of the regular deadline for candidates to file applications for a place on the general primary ballot.

[…]

Sec. 202.006. NOMINATION BY EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE. (a) A political party’s state, district, county, or precinct executive committee, as appropriate for the particular office, may nominate a candidate for the unexpired term if:

(1) in the case of a party holding a primary election, the vacancy occurs after the fifth day before the date of the regular deadline for candidates to file applications for a place on the ballot for the general primary election; or

(2) in the case of a party nominating by convention, the vacancy occurs after the fourth day before the date the convention having the power to make a nomination for the office convenes.

(b) The nominating procedure for an unexpired term under this section is the same as that provided by Subchapter B, Chapter 145, for filling a vacancy in a party’s nomination, to the extent that it can be made applicable.

Chapter 145 was the governing law for the process used to fill El Franco Lee’s spot on the ballot, and then subsequently those of Rodney Ellis and Borris Miles. Here, Section 202.004 cannot apply, as the primary has already taken place, so Section 202.006 is the relevant code. And so we get to experience another precinct chair convention to pick a nominee – unlike 2016, when no Republican had filed for Commissioners Court Precinct 1, the GOP will get to name a candidate as well. Well, someone will get to experience that. I am thankfully in JP Precinct 1, not JP Precinct 7, so I’m spared it this time. I’ll follow it, and time permitting I’ll be there when it happens to observe, but I get to be a bystander this time, and that’s fine by me. Godspeed to those of you who get to make the call.

The prosecution keeps piling on Steve Stockman

From Monday:

Best newspaper graphic ever

A fundraising director who quit and returned most of his salary after four days as an employee of ex-U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman characterized the work environment as “horrific” for Washington, D.C., interns, according to his testimony in the second week of the former Republican lawmaker’s fraud trial in a Houston federal court.

A crew of volunteer interns worked in a cramped office making as many as 2,000 fundraising calls all day — at a lobbying firm rather than the congressman’s office — and had to hustle to find their own summer lodging, according to Sean McMahon, the short-lived fundraising director.

“The situation with interns is horrific,” McMahon wrote — before the interns began at the lobbying firm office — in an email entered as evidence in the case. “Every single one of them believes they are having a normal ‘Hill internship.’ This is not the case.”

[…]

Among more than a dozen witnesses Monday was Stockman’s former secretary on Capitol Hill, Kristine Nichols. She said before she started at his office the congressman said she had to take a mandatory ethics course. Everyone did.

Nichols testified she asked Stockman, who had been a friend before she was hired, whether he took the course, too.

“He said he wasn’t planning to go because then they might hold him to the rules,” she said.

Ouch. See here and here for earlier updates. I’m not sure what this was intended to establish other than the fact that nobody seems to like Steve Stockman, but I’m here for it anyway. There was some more testimony about his attempt to “sting” State Rep. James White as well.

And from Tuesday.

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman recruited top officials from the Egyptian defense ministry to help solicit a $30 million donation from an international cement company facing legal trouble, according to testimony in the second week of the GOP lawmaker’s federal corruption trial.

Stockman claimed the funds would go toward educating Americans about the historic importance of Egypt and the Middle East, or perhaps toward shipping medical supplies to Egypt and Africa, a witness testified Tuesday.

The hefty donation from CEMEX, an international cement company founded in Mexico, apparently never materialized. But prosecutors say the aide who helped arrange Stockman’s trip to Egypt to meet with officials was paid with money from another donation Stockman solicited for another of his pet causes. He had told an investor he wanted to establish Freedom House, a facility for conservative Capitol Hill interns in Washington, D.C.

The government lawyers say these trips and expenditures demonstrate how Stockman took hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable donations, and rather than spending it as promised, he used it to enrich himself. The former GOP lawmaker from Clear Lake is on trial for 28 criminal counts related to syphoning off major donation funds to cover his own personal and political debts in what the government lawyers called a “white collar crime spree.”

But Stockman’s defense team contends that testimony about the Egypt trip and about donation money Stockman funneled into a surveillance project tracking a presumed political opponent at the state capitol amount to meritless theatrics aimed at swaying the jury.

“It’s a time-consuming effort to make Mr. Stockman look like he’s involved in a bunch of shady stuff, none of which is charged in the indictment,” said attorney Sean Buckley.

If your defense is that the prosecution is spending too much time on shady stuff your client did that he wasn’t charged with, I’m thinking you have a tough road ahead. All this and the two Stockman aides who took pleas still haven’t testified.

The Stockman trial gets weird

I mean, with Steve Stockman you have to expect some weird crap, but I didn’t see this coming.

Best newspaper graphic ever

The American Phoenix Foundation — a now-defunct conservative activist groupknown for attempting undercover stings of lawmakers and lobbyists — planted an intern in a Texas state lawmaker’s office during the 2013 legislative session in an effort to expose misdeeds, testimony in federal court revealed Thursday.

Shaughn Adeleye, testifying in Houston in the federal fraud case against former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, said in court Thursday that he was planted in the office of state Rep. James White to obtain footage of the Hillister Republican engaged in “fraud and abuse” and also in more mundane activities like cursing or failing to tidy his messy car, according to Quorum Report.

Stockman funded that effort in an attempt to uncover “salacious” gossip about a perceived political rival, according to testimony Thursday, the Houston Chronicle reported. The former congressman stands accused of illegally using charitable donations to cover political and personal expenses, among a total of 28 criminal charges.

Stockman was concerned that White would give up his state House seat to challenge him for Congress. “Republicans love black conservatives. I’m worried,” Stockman fretted in a text to a political ally, according to testimony Thursday.

Adeleye told prosecutors Thursday that he accepted the undercover job because he was told he’d be ferreting out corruption, but it ultimately became clear his supervisors were hoping for embarrassing material about White, who is the only black Republican in the Legislature. He was told “a good video of [White] saying anything crazy would be ideal,” according to an email shown in court.

“These were just such odd requests,” Adeleye said Thursday.

The American Phoenix Foundation filmed Texas lobbyists and lawmakers back in 2015, and the group’s membership has ties to James O’Keefe, a conservative political activist infamous for his shady tactics.

See here for yesterday’s update. I recall State Rep. White’s name being bounced around as a possible CD36 candidate for a hot second or two, but it never gained any traction, in part because he wasn’t interested and in part because Stockman went off on his quest to unseat Sen. John Cornyn in that primary. Given that Stockman basically cruised to a win in the crowded 2012 race for CD36 on the strength of his residual name ID and that James White was a two-term State Rep who I’d venture to guess was widely unknown, this hair-brained scheme to discredit him – which among other things would surely have done wonders for Rep. White’s name ID – shows an impressive level of paranoia, even for the likes of Stockman. The scheme itself makes Jerry Lundegaard and Carl Showalter look like super geniuses, and I am here for it. This trial has more than lived up to my expectations, and the defense hasn’t even begun to present its case. The Chron – check the URL for that story, it’s pure gold – has more.

Stockman trial update

From Tuesday:

Best newspaper graphic ever

“This case is the story of how the defendant over the course of four years exploited the trust and charity of others to pull off a massive scam,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Heberle, of the Justice Department’s public integrity division, told jurors during opening statements in the federal corruption trial.

“It is the story of a man who thinks that the rules are for other people,” Heberle said. “And it is the story of how, dollar by dollar, investigators followed the money and unraveled the defendant’s fraud scheme.”

Heberle said Stockman pulled off the scheme by cheating federal election law, lying to donors and blaming mistakes on his staff.

Heberle outlined several major donations Stockman, a trained accountant, solicited on behalf of charitable groups he was involved in, and said the evidence would show that with the help of two aides, Stockman quickly moved that money from one account to another and spent it to cover personal and campaign expenses.

Defense attorney Sean Buckley, however, had a drastically different take on the same series of financial transactions.

“The core is question of whether Mr. Stockman lied with the intent to steal money” from two major donors, Buckley said.

Buckley described his client as a scrappy, naive and idealistic outsider who lost track of his finances.

See here for the previous update. Just as a reminder, that “scrappy, naive outsider” was first elected to Congress in 1994, and the crimes he is accused of stem from his 2012 House campaign and his unsuccessful 2014 primary bid against Sen. John Cornyn. That’s an awfully long time to remain naive.

From Wednesday:

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman and two aides used a major charitable donation to a cover credit card debt, two spots at a Christian summer camp, a friend’s stint in rehab and a funeral for employee’s wife, according to testimony Wednesday from an FBI agent at Stockman’s federal fraud trial in Houston.

But they didn’t spend any of the $350,000 gift — as Stockman had promised he would at a pitch meeting with a conservative Midwestern mega-donor — on the renovation of a house near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to be used as living quarters and a training facility for young conservatives.

A series of witnesses called by federal prosecutors in the second day of Stockman’s corruption trial traced the path of that $350,000 donation, testifying that Stockman and his associates spent it on an extensive array of expenses, which the donor said he never meant to cover.

[…]

[Conservative megadonor Richard] Uihlein said after spending less than an hour meeting with Stockman at his corporate offices in Pleasant Prairie, Wis. on Jan. 24, 2013, he wrote a check from the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation to the newly elected representative’s charitable foundation for $350,000.

One month prior, at the urging of Larry Pratt, CEO and founder of Gun Owners of America, Uihlein had donated $5,000 to help pay for a group of home-schooled children to be in Washington for Stockman’s swearing in ceremony.

And a year after he made the Freedom House donation, Uihlein would write a $450,000 check to cover a mailing in Stockman’s unsuccessful bid to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the Republican Primary, court records in the case show.

And now the GOP legislator and an aide, Thomas Dodd, had arrived with an impressive brochure about Freedom House and asked for money to create their training center for young congressional interns. Uihlein, the CEO of a moving supplies empire, said he liked the idea of helping cover the house’s renovation.

“I felt they were trustworthy,” Uihlein told the jury, under questioning from a federal prosecutor. “And I trusted that they would spend the money the way they said.”

He said he understood from the brochure that Stockman was soliciting the money for a charitable cause through a 501c3 organization, and stressed he would not have given it if he knew it would be spent on the former lawmaker’s personal and campaign costs.

This post has more about the Stockman/Uihlein relationship. Uihlein may have been duped, but he’s far from innocent, or sympathetic. As for Stockman, his defense is to blame everything on the two former aides that have since taken plea deals for their actions in this saga. One of those aides, Jason Posey, has been an associate of Stockman’s since his first Congressional term in the 90’s. Like I said, that’s an awfully long time to remain naive. The prosecution still has more to present, and then we get to the defense, which ought to be amazing. Stay tuned.

Steve Stockman’s trial has begun

Hope you have your popcorn ready.

Best newspaper graphic ever

A year after he was charged with running a wide-ranging scheme to divert charitable donations to pay for campaign and personal expenses, former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman is scheduled to begin a month-long trial Monday in a Houston federal courtroom.

Jurors could hear testimony in Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s courtroom from about 75 witnesses and sift through thousands of pages of evidence in what prosecutors have characterized as a “white-collar crime spree,” according to court documents.

[…]

“The evidence at trial will show that over a four-year period (Stockman) used a series of sham nonprofit entities to raise over $1 million in fraudulent donations,” according to trial brief filed recently by Justice Department prosecutor Ryan Ellersick, who alleged the former congressman “funneled the fraud proceeds through a web of shell bank accounts before ultimately using the funds to pay for personal expenses and to illegally finance his campaign for federal office.”

Stockman, 61, a resident of Clear Lake, faces 28 criminal counts, including allegations of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Election Commission, making excessive campaign contributions, money laundering and filing a false tax return.

Stockman’s lawyer, Sean Buckley, said he expects his client to be fully vindicated. He plans to argue that the upstart lawmaker, who opposed big government and failed to unseat Sen. John Cornyn in the 2014 Republican primary, did nothing intentionally wrong.

“We are absolutely adamant that he didn’t intend to defraud donors or anyone else,” Buckley said. “There’s no allegation of an extravagant lifestyle. He was always one step away from the poverty line.”

See here for the previous update. Gotta love the “I didn’t mean it!” defense. Jury selection is underway. I’ll be checking in periodically as we go.

Stockman’s trial set to start

Get ready.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman stood before a federal judge in a mostly empty Houston courtroom Friday and confirmed he wants a jury to decide if he diverted nearly $1.25 million in charitable donations intended for conservative organizations.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal first determined that he had not entered into plea negotiations with federal prosecutors, and then asked, “Mr. Stockman, I assume you want to go to trial?”

“Yes, your honor,” he replied.

Stockman, whose trial is now set for March 19, has been free on $25,000 unsecured bond. The judge made a point to insist that he be present in court for the entire proceeding. He assured her he would.

[…]

Defense attorney Sean Buckley said his client is confident and he’s ready to address and refute the allegations.

“As they always say, there are two sides to every story and there are most certainly two sides to this one,” Buckley said.

Buckley said he plans to argue that the two aides pleaded guilty to better their own situations, not because they or Stockman are guilty or did anything wrong.

See here for some background. The aides in question are Jason Posey and Thomas Dodd, both of whom have already taken pleas. Stockman’s trial was supposed to have started in January, after having been delayed from June of last year. This time it looks like it may finally get going. I can’t wait.

Paxton and Paxton, Inc

How exactly is this not a conflict of interest?

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s political campaign guaranteed a $2 million loan to help his wife fuel her bid for a state Senate seat in North Texas.

The Bank of the Ozarks loaned the money to Angela Paxton, a Collin County Republican, with the help of Ken Paxton’s campaign operating as a guarantor, according to the attorney general’s campaign spokesman. That means if Paxton’s wife’s campaign cannot pay the loan back, Ken Paxton’s campaign is responsible for paying off the debt.

“Attorney General Paxton is confident she is going to win and her campaign will be able to pay back the loan with interest,” said Matt Welch, a spokesman for the attorney general’s campaign.

Angela, a former guidance counselor, is running for Senate District 8, which sits north of Dallas. In the March 6 Republican primary election, she is running against Phillip Huffines, a former Dallas County GOP chairman and twin brother of Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas.

[…]

Justin Nelson, an Austin lawyer and Democrat, is running against him in the general election. Nelson’s campaign scoffed at the attorney general’s move to back the loan as “shocking but not surprising.

“This loan emphasizes the corruption of the political class. It’s not normal for the attorney general’s campaign to lend his wife’s campaign $2 million. It’s wrong,” said Nate Walker, Nelson’s campaign manager.

I mean, a bank loaning a couple million dollars to the chief law enforcement officer of the state to help with his wife’s campaign couldn’t possibly cause any ethical concerns, right? And while I’m sure the Paxton’s believe that God will provide for their lifestyle forever, what do you think might happen if Ken Paxton loses in November, or if he gets convicted before then? It may be a tad bit hard to raise that money to pay the bank back, especially if busking for his legal defense fund becomes a top priority. I might be a little peeved about this if I were a depositor at that bank. Oh, and as the Huffines campaign pointed out, if you had previously donated to Ken Paxton and you support Phillip Huffines in SD08, congratulations – your donation just help subsidize his opponent. Not like my heart is breaking for Phillip Huffines or any of his backers – you knew, or should have known, that Ken Paxton has the moral compass of a lesser Borgia family member – but this stuff does actually matter. And willingly or not, we’re all now soaking in it.

The price of disrespect

Greg Abbott makes another endorsement.

Rep. Wayne Faircloth

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday endorsed the Republican challenger to Galveston state Rep. Wayne Faircloth, a move that is expected to deepen simmering divisions within the state Republican party.

In a new video, Abbott called Mayes Middleton a “principled conservative — a conservative who will be a tireless advocate for his constituents.”

“In the next legislative session, we have an opportunity to continue to pass reforms that make Texas even better,” Abbott said. “To do this, we need leaders who will work with me to advance a conservative agenda that will benefit every Texans our great state. That is why I am endorsing Mayes Middleton for state representative.”

Middleton is an oil and gas businessman and rancher from Chambers County and is a board member of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Abbott’s endorsement of Middleton is his second of a GOP primary challenger to a Republican incumbent running for reelection to the Texas House. In November, he endorsed Houston businesswoman Susanna Dokupil, who is challenging state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place.

Like Campos, you may be wondering what’s up with that. Faircloth has no reputation as a Joe Straus/Sarah Davis “moderate”, and he hasn’t gone all maverick-y on bathroom bills or toll roads or whatever else. He’s basically a standard-issue Republican, more “conservative” than average by the Mark Jones method, at least in the last session. What does Greg Abbott have against him?

If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re not cynical enough.

Abbott started the week by endorsing Mayes Middleton, a conservative who until last year served on the board of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, over state Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Galveston, who irked the governor’s circle by supporting a ban on “pay for play” gubernatorial appointments of big political donors.

So there you have it. Don’t get between Greg Abbott and his sugar daddies. Greg Abbott will cut you.

Stockman aide takes a plea

The walls are closing in.

Best newspaper graphic ever

A longtime confidant and aide to former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman pleaded guilty to Wednesday to fraud charges in a corruption scheme that also targeted the former congressman. The alleged scheme involved diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars — meant as contributions from conservative foundations — to fund political campaigns and cover personal expenses.

Jason T. Posey, a former campaign treasurer for Stockman, pleaded guilty before Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal to one count each of wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering. The government will presumably dismiss nearly a dozen additional charges and seek a reduced sentence if Posey agrees to cooperate with the government at Stockman’s trial.
He faces up to 45 years in federal prison and a fine of more than $4.8 million plus hundred of thousands of dollars in restitution, Rosenthal said. She set sentencing for Mar. 29.

He remains free on bond.

“My guy was a player, but he’s not the only player involved,” said Posey’s lawyer Phil Hilder. He accepted responsibility for his misdeeds and is prepared to cooperate, Hilder said.

[…]

[Stockman defense attorney Sean] Buckley said this week he believes that Posey and Dodd operated outside of Washington, D.C., on various political and non-profit projects that Stockman knew little about. The defense attorney contends his client trusted the pair to use contributions they received for the proper purposes.

“I will say that the evidence will show that Steve Stockman did not defraud any donors. He spent the funds in a way that he thought were in furthered the donors’ intentions. To the extent that (funds were diverted) he was either unaware of it or he misunderstood it,” Buckley said.

Stockman has said told the court he is innocent and a victim of a deep state conspiracy.

Buckley said he expects Posey to provide information against his former boss and mentor. Dodd has already pleaded guilty to two related conspiracy charges and has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Hilder, who represents Posey, said, “I do not know what a ‘deep state conspiracy’ is, but I do know what constitutes a criminal conspiracy.”

“Mr. Posey freely and voluntarily admits being involved in criminal activity that is the subject of the indictment,” he said. “By pleading guilty at this stage of the proceedings, Mr. Posey accepts his responsibility for his misdeeds and seeks to move forward becoming a productive member of society.”

See here for a good overview of this saga. Jason Posey returned to the US from abroad back in May, and I presume has been talking to the feds for some time. Another former Stockman aide, Thomas Dodd, pleaded guilty in March to two related conspiracy charges and has already agreed to testify. The trial, originally set for September, will begin January 29. Get your popcorn ready, this is going to be amazing.

Ethics, schmethics

This little exchange says so much about our weak and insecure Governor.

Rep. Sarah Davis

The fireworks began with a press conference called by GOP Rep. Sarah Davis, chair of the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics. Davis, flanked by both Democratic and Republican members of the committee, noted that Abbott had made ethics reform an “emergency” priority in the past two regular sessions. Though it’s not currently on the agenda for the special session this summer, she said the need for reform is greater than ever.

As an example, the Houston-area Republican said she is moving forward this week with ethics legislation — including a bill that would close a major loophole allowing state lawmakers during special sessions to hit up contributors for campaign cash at the same time they’re considering legislation that could affect those donors’ interests.

“I think we need to go ahead and close that loophole,” Davis said.

Such fundraising is illegal during regular sessions, under the theory that lawmakers shouldn’t be simultaneously casting votes and taking campaign money. But there is no such ban during these 30-day special sessions called by the governor. House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both Republicans, have voluntarily pledged not to fundraise during this summer’s special session, but Abbott continues to seek donations in email solicitations.

Davis was joined by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, who took a more direct slap at the governor. He said he is again pushing a bill attacking what he calls a “pay for play” system in the governor’s office when it comes to appointments to state boards and commissions.

Larson’s legislation would limit the amount of money an appointee could give a governor. Donors who give more than $2,500 would be ineligible to serve, though Larson said he’s considering raising the amount to $5,000 and putting the effective date as 2022 in a bid to garner Abbott’s support.

Larson said donors who give amounts well into six figures can receive the most prestigious appointments — such as spots on a major university’s board of regents. He said Abbott and his predecessors, both Republican and Democratic, have used appointments to attract huge sums for their campaigns.

“I think it’s imperative that if we control both the legislative and the executive branch of government that we should reform the most egregious ethics violations we’ve got in the state, and that’s where people have to pay large sums of money to get appointed to highly coveted seats,” Larson said.

Speaker Straus agrees with Reps. Davis and Larson. What about Greg Abbott?

Abbott spokesman John Wittman, minutes after the press conference concluded, blasted the two lawmakers in a written statement.

“Instead of working to advance items on the special session agenda that could reform property taxes, fix school finance, increase teacher pay and reduce regulations, Reps. Davis and Larson are showboating over proposals that are not on the Governor’s call,” Wittman said. “Their constituents deserve better.”

So very touchy. Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that these proposals are perfectly reasonable on their merits and focus on the fact that Greg Abbott, who controls the special session agenda, says we can’t talk about them until the Lege passes the entire 20-item agenda he has already laid out. Which means that Abbott is saying that his bizarre obsession with trees and his insistence on overriding all kinds of local ordinances is more important than ethics reform, which by the way was something that he had once labeled an “emergency” priority. I’d be hypersensitive about this, too.

Judicial Conduct commission suspends JP Hilary Green

Bam!

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday issued an order to suspend Harris County Justice of the Peace Hilary Green from office immediately based on allegations that Green illegally abused prescription drugs, sent sexually explicit texts to a bailiff while on the bench and paid for sex.

It’s the first time any Texas judge has received a temporary suspension in at least a decade in a contested matter, the commission says.

The state supreme court had been asked to take the unusual emergency action by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which in May presented a 316-page document in support of an immediate suspension. That document summarized evidence it had collected in its own investigations of previously secret complaints made against Green from 2012 to 2015.

The commission alleged that in its own closed proceedings, Green already had admitted to many allegations against her, including illegally obtaining prescription drugs and using marijuana and Ecstasy while she was presiding over low-level drug possession cases involving juveniles in her south Houston courtroom.

One of the most serious allegations, the commission says, is that Green engaged her “assigned bailiff in an effort to illegally obtain prescription drugs.”

The commission argued that the evidence — and Green’s own admissions — more than justified Green’s immediate removal from her post as a jurist for Harris County Precinct 7, Place 1 while the state watchdog agency prepared for a longer civil trial required under Texas law to remove Green — or any judge — from elected office.

“Judge Green’s outright betrayal of the public’s trust warrants her immediate suspension pending formal proceedings,” the commission had argued.

Green’s attorney, Chip Babcock, argued in a response to the supreme court that voters themselves had a chance to review and “forgive” many of the commission’s allegations, some of which were published in Houston Chronicle stories, before they chose to re-elect Green in 2017.

See here for the background, with the warning that the more you read the more you will want to take a shower afterwards. While a lot of this information was known before the 2016 primary, I’d argue that most, though not all, of it was allegations of behavior that was merely tawdry rather than illegal. As such, I disagree with attorney Babcock that the voters had a chance to “review and forgive” the record. But even if one believes that the voters were sufficiently informed, I don’t see how that mitigates against this suspension or the potential subsequent removal from office. Elections have consequences, but so does criminal behavior. If the Commission votes to remove Judge Green, she can appeal as the process allows, but appealing to the voters as a defense will fall flat to me.

We should all have friends like these

It’s like they say: Friends help you move. Real friends help you move dead bodies. Really real friends help pay for your criminal defense.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, nearly two years into his fight against state securities fraud charges, is continuing to get plenty of help from his friends to cover his soaring legal bills.

The Republican accepted nearly $218,000 in 2016 earmarked for his legal defense from “family friends” and others who Paxton says are exempted from state bribery laws that bar elected officials from receiving gifts from parties subject to their authority, according to a newly-released financial disclosure statement.

Those donations are on top of more than $329,000 Paxton accepted for the same cause in 2015.

Steven and Carrie Parsons of Dallas made last year’s biggest contribution, $75,000. They have also donated thousands of dollars to Paxton’s political campaign.

Alfred and Janet Gleason of Green Valley, Ariz. made the second biggest legal fund donation in 2016: $50,000, according to the filing. Ray and Ann Huffines also gave Paxton $10,000. Ray’s brother is state Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas.

As attorney general, Paxton’s authority could extend broadly, so in his disclosure he cited an “independent relationship” exception that allows gifts from family members and those “independent” of an officeholder’s “official status.”

“All gifts for legal defense were conferred and accepted on account of a personal, professional, or business relationship independent of General Paxton’s official status,” Paxton’s disclosure form states.

In all, 15 people or couples chipped in for Paxton’s legal defense last year. And one entity called Annual Fund Inc. contributed $10,000. It funnels money to groups that make independent political expenditures — political action committees that can spend unlimited amounts of cash without disclosing where it came from. Annual Fund Inc, according to Bloomberg, primarily gives to a group called Citizens for the Republic, whose national chairman is conservative media personality Laura Ingraham.

Yeah, no possibility of conflict of interest in any of this. Move along, citizen, nothing to see here.

Former Stockman aide returns to US

The gang’s all here.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Federal agents quietly arrested Jason Posey, a former congressional aide who’d been wanted for two months on charges that he helped ex-U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman carry out a criminal conspiracy to bilk millionaire donors, violate elections laws, and illegally divert hundreds of thousands in campaign cash.

Posey and Stockman were both indicted March 28 on 28 federal charges including mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Elections Commission, excessive campaign contributions and money laundering.

Stockman was arrested at the airport on his way out of the country by federal agents. But it appears government agents spent weeks negotiating with Posey – who’d been living abroad in the Middle East for more than two years.

Posey voluntarily returned to Houston to turn himself in on May 23, according to Philip Hilder, a Houston lawyer appointed to represent Posey.

“He voluntarily came back to the United States to face the allegations levied against him,” said Hilder, who is known for his work representing whistle-blowers and other witnesses and defendants in high-profile white-collar crime cases, including Enron.

In his recent federal court appearance, Posey pleaded not guilty to all 28 charges, according to federal court records. Stockman also pleaded not guilty.

[…]

Another former Stockman aide, Thomas Dodd, pleaded guilty in March to two related conspiracy charges and has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

But in indictments, prosecutors describe Posey as Stockman’s primary accomplice . State and county business filings show that Posey set up some of the companies that federal prosecutors say were used to divert campaign contributions through suburban Houston post office boxes and an array of bank accounts.

See here for the background. As noted in that earlier post, Posey has been a close associate of Stockman’s for a long time. I can’t wait for this trial to get underway.