One of the foundational tenets of America is that no person is supposed to be above the law. In practice this has not held true for politicians, especially in Texas.
A deep dive from Lise Olsen at Texas Observer reveals some startling facts about how corrupt politicians are prosecuted in the state, or more accurately, how they are not. According to her research, the Texas Rangers have investigated 564 cases of bribery, theft, forgery, and other crimes carried out by elected officials. Of those, only about 12 were ever prosecuted. Most politicians who break the public trust simply walk away.
The Rangers represent a broken system of accountability for Texas politicians. Investigations are often juggled with many other duties and subject to capricious oversight from local officials. Olsen’s report shows that in the few cases that the Rangers do seek justice, they tend to focus mostly on people of color or whistleblowers rather than the state’s elite. Documents show that while women constitute fewer complaints of corruption, they are convicted and jailed at a higher rate. When it comes to the white men at the top of the state mechanisms, justice is usually deferred or forgotten altogether.
Attorney General Ken Paxton is up for re-election next year and expected to win again despite a long list of allegations against him. It started in 2014 when Paxton was in a runoff for the AG position. An investigation by the Texas Tribune showed that Paxton had violated state security laws by soliciting investment clients without being registered. He was eventually fined $1,000 and forced to complete the appropriate paperwork, but it was only the beginning of a long habit of skirting the law.
Further criminal complaints were filed against Paxton showing that he had solicited clients for Mowery Capital Management, LLC to use as investment clients as far back as 2004. Paxton was then serving in the Texas House, and had actually voted for a law that specifically made acting as an investment advisor without being registered a third-degree felony. Following his swearing in as AG, the Texas Securities Commission found that Paxton had also altered disclosure forms related to Mowery. Paxton was paid a 30 percent commission for his referrals.
In 2015, the Lone Star Project would send documents to the Collin County Grand Jury showing that Paxton was involved in shady deals in McKinney. Paxton and business partners, including Frederick “Fritz” Mowery, bought property in McKinney for $700,000 shortly before a new appraisal district was created and quickly flipped the property for $1 million. Mowery would eventually go on to be fined for $90,000. Paxton denied knowing about the new zoning designations, but rumors began to swirl of insider trading.
In August of that year, Paxton was formally indicted by the grand jury for securities fraud, but his case has still not gone to trial thanks to Paxton’s ongoing legal finessing. This includes taking $100,000 as a gift for legal defense from Preferred Imaging LLC CEO James Webb, a man himself who was investigated for fraud. The gift itself might also break laws about what public servants can receive.
In the years since, Paxton has continued to fight his indictment in every way except going to court, all the while racking up new accusations of graft. Whistleblowers in his own office alerted authorities to a new bribery scheme involving more rich friends of the AG’s. That new round of legal troubles led to what many believe to be a quest for a presidential pardon from Donald Trump as Paxton began alleging massive voter fraud in the 2020 election.
The Texas Rangers were asked by prosecutors investigating Paxton to look into the reports of bribery and abuse of office that were revealed by the whistleblowers. In typical fashion for Texas politicians, the Rangers declined to do so. Even when the Rangers do pursue a case, Texas law enables local district attorneys to restrict their ability to investigate. With the state’s top cop himself under fire for felony misconduct, law enforcement’s ability to or even willingness to root out corruption is hamstrung.