State Senator Ken Paxton (R-McKinney) just can't seem to catch a break. Since improprieties in his financial disclosures were revealed last week, the leading GOP candidate for Attorney General has been MIA, canceling several scheduled campaign events over the past two weeks. His legal problems have already caused him to start losing endorsements.
Now, it's coming to light that Paxton has a history of voting on bills that directly impact his business dealings, violating the Texas state constitution.
Paxton, the self-proclaimed BFF of Ted Cruz, has a history of some unsavory business deals–he previously lost $100,000 in a Ponzi scheme run by a man who claimed to have found Noah's Ark. As the Dallas Morning News reported earlier this week, since joining the Texas Legislature in 2003 Paxton “has started or become part of 28 business ventures.”
In the Legislature, Ken Paxton has voted on lucrative state contracts that directly benefit some of those business ventures which is against the law. As Texas Monthly put it, for someone running for the state's top legal position “he's either surprisingly uninformed about what the state's laws are, or surprisingly unconcerned about following them himself.”
Read more about Ken Paxton's shady business dealings after the jump. Texas Monthly laid out one of Paxton's most blatant conflict of interest cases earlier this week:
In 2006, a company called WatchGuard won a lucrative contract, worth about $10 million, with the Texas Department of Public Safety. It was a coup for the young company, which reported a huge leap in earnings a couple of years later… But it was fitting that WatchGuard would do well in Texas. Among the company's early investors, Root noted, were two members of the Legislature: Paxton, who was then in the House, and Byron Cook.
Since then, WatchGuard Video has also received $1 million in federal stimulus money.
Ken Paxton voted in favor of the spending bills that granted WatchGuard the state contract–even though he had an ownership stake in the company.
Moreover, WatchGuard Video now has an additional contract to provide video cameras to McKinney, Paxton's hometown.
Paxton's actions were a direct violation of the Texas constitution which states, “nor shall any member of the Legislature be interested, either directly or indirectly, in any contract with the State, or any county thereof, authorized by any law passed during the term for which he was elected.”
Yet, when confronted by reporter Jay Root about disclosing his investments in companies that hold state contracts, Paxton dismissed the idea. “I don't see why it would help taxpayers to know that,” he said.
This wasn't the only time Ken Paxton has used his government influence to impact his business holdings. The Dallas Morning News reported that in 2005, “Paxton became part of a company called Premiere Vertical Properties, which operates cellphone towers.” Then, in 2009, “Paxton introduced legislation that would exempt cellphone companies from paying sales taxes.” The bill didn't succeed, but if it had it would have directly benefitted Paxton's business.
The Dallas Morning News also told of a business deal in McKinney involving Paxton. In 2004, a company in which Paxton is a part-owner purchased undeveloped land in McKinney for $700,000. The next year, they flipped only half the land for over $1 million.
The reason they were able to get such a good deal was because Paxton's company had lobbied for, and was granted, a zoning change that made the property more valuable. Paxton's friend Don Day was the vice chairman of the zoning commission, and approved the zoning change.
Paxton denies any role in the rezoning efforts.
In the face of reporter questions about being sued, formally reprimanded by the Texas Ethics Commission, and facing tax liens, Paxton has made little comment. His response has been to simply disappear, hoping that his ads with Ted Cruz will be enough to sway Republican runoff voters in his favor.
These instances all point to the same thing–Paxton is either ignorant of the laws regarding conflict of interest, or he has no qualms about violating them. Either way, it's a troubling problem for the leading candidate for Attorney General to have. The man who's running to be the chief lawyer for the state of Texas has a history of violating the law, and not caring about the consequences.