The campaign for Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said on Thursday that he will not take any contributions while suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton is being tried in the Senate for impeachment. The Senate Republican and Democratic caucuses also said that they would refrain from holding fundraisers while the trial, which begins on Tuesday, is underway.
Because the senators who will decide Paxton’s fate are able to accept campaign contributions while the historic event unfolds, the trial is shining a sharp focus on Texas’ inadequate ethics regulations. As a result, there is a higher chance that political pressure from outside may significantly affect the trial.
Because of his $3 million donation to a pro-Paxton group’s campaign in June, Patrick, who presides over the trial, has already come under fire.
According to Dan Patrick spokeswoman Allen Blakemore, “During the impeachment proceedings, the lieutenant governor will be singularly focused on matters related to the impeachment proceedings.” During the impeachment process, “He will not be doing any fundraising, meetings, speeches, or other events of any kind.”
Sen. Tan Parker of Flower Mound, the chair of the GOP caucus, told the Tribune that the group has no plans to raise money during the hearings and “is not accepting contributions while proceedings are underway.” Sen. Carol Alvarado of Houston, a fellow Democrat, echoed similar sentiments when she said that her caucus “will not host any fundraising events or accept contributions during the impeachment trial.”
Their assertions are applicable to each caucus separately. Members are still free to choose to raise money independently.
Dan Patrick accepted a $1 million gift and a $2 million loan from Defend Texas Liberty PAC in June. The group has forcefully defended Paxton and is defaming House Republicans who contributed millions to the effort to have him impeached.
Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat, called on his fans this week to donate to Senate Democrats in order to oppose “pro-Paxton special interest groups” in response to the Republican pressure campaign.
In an email, O’Rourke stated that “[Senate Democrats] should be commended — not punished — for upholding the rule of law, safeguarding our democracy, and holding corrupt public officials accountable.” We can’t let dubious special interest groups remove them from office for carrying out their duties.
When asked about the Democratic caucus’ announcement on Thursday night that it would not take donations during the trial, O’Rourke did not answer right away.
Although Dan Patrick and the caucuses are not soliciting money during the trial, it is unknown whether the 31 senators will do so individually. Since they are subject to a strict gag order, they have primarily been unable to answer to questions on the trial’s preparations.
At the moment, state lawmakers and statewide officials are not required to report their political donations again until mid-January, which is most likely after the trial is over.
Texas is already known for having low ethical standards. State legislators can receive an unlimited number of donations for their campaigns, and ethics watchdogs may take a while to investigate suspected campaign finance law infractions.
In a study issued on Thursday, two good governance organizations raised the alarm about the large sums of money that may sway the trial. The research by Texans for Public Justice and the Public Citizen Texas office described how three oil millionaires, Tim Dunn, Dan, and Farris Wilks, had given $12 million to Paxton, Patrick, and the majority of senators over the years.
Adrian Shelley, the director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, stated in a news release that a small number of extremely rich Texans are taking advantage of the state’s lax ethics standards in a way that has never been seen before. Among the improvements that Shelley demanded was “a ban on donations during an impeachment proceeding.”
Texas law prohibits legislators from taking campaign donations from 30 days before a normal legislative session until 20 days after it. This restriction covers not only impeachment proceedings but also special sessions. This is a flaw that came to light in 2021 when House Democrats fled to Washington, D.C., to halt legislative processes and collected hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for their stay outside of Texas.
Earlier last year, two Republican congressmen introduced legislation to address the special-session loophole. However, neither of their measures obtained a committee hearing, which is an indication of how challenging it is to persuade the Legislature to agree on ethical changes.
Fundraising during a special session, when “substantive legislative policy” is at stake, is different from fundraising during an impeachment trial, which is a naturally political process, according to Austin-based ethics lawyer Andrew Cates. Senators still need to take into account perception-related concerns, according to Cates.
If I were providing advice to the senators, Cates remarked, “I would say don’t take any money from anybody.” Sincerely, since it seems horrible to accept the funding, but if you were going to support Ken Paxton anyhow, simply cast your vote. Accepting the money makes you feel more like those external pressures are pressing in.
In the closing days of June, almost a month after the House had impeached Paxton and as the Senate was stepping up its trial preparations, Patrick accepted the $3 million in pro-Paxton funds. Dunn and the Wilkses provide much of the Defend Texas Liberty PAC funding.
Former state representative Jonathan Stickland, the group’s leader, has pledged political retaliation against any senator who supports Paxton in the trial. He has also been transparent about the group’s plans to keep making large purchases.
Hours after it was revealed that Patrick was receiving $3 million in support, Stickland tweeted, “This is just the beginning, wait until you see the next report.” “We won’t ever give up. Ever.”
Depending on how long the trial goes, it may coincide with the Texas-Oklahoma football game, one of the largest fundraising events of the year for state legislators. Numerous lawmakers go to Dallas for the Red River Showdown each year to participate in collaborative fundraising events the weekend before the game.
The game this year is scheduled for October 7, which is roughly a month after the trial begins; Patrick has stated that he anticipates the trial to run between two and a half and three weeks.
For instance, a save-the-date sent out on August 1 states that two Republican state senators, Park and Charles Schwertner of Georgetown, have a combined fundraiser planned for the evening before the game in Dallas.
Parker simply stated in a statement to the Tribune that “my attention will be solely focused on fulfilling my Constitutional duties” as a juror when asked about the event. The trial coincides with certain senators’ bids for other positions. Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat from San Antonio, is one of those senators who is running against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the Democratic primary. During the trial, according to a representative for Gutierrez’s campaign, he would continue to raise money for his federal bid.