In the upcoming impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has likened the Senate proceedings to a real-world courtroom, with senators serving as jurors and Patrick as the judge.
However, this raises concerns over potential conflicts of interest within the trial. Paxton owes Patrick around $125,000 in outstanding campaign loans, while one of the jurors, Sen. Angela Paxton, who is also Paxton’s wife, owes Paxton’s campaign $600,000, as reported by The Houston Chronicle. Such financial connections raise questions about impartiality and decision-making based on personal interests.
While these conflicts would be deemed unacceptable in normal judicial proceedings, impeachment trials are inherently political, making conflicts somewhat unavoidable. However, ethics experts told The Houston Chronicle that for the public to have faith in the decision-making process, stepping aside to avoid such conflicts would be the better course.
Because the loans are still outstanding, “those start to feel to me like real conflicts,” said Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
“We don’t want a situation where the public doesn’t have faith that decisions by government officials are being made for the right reason,” Bookbinder said. “And where there are significant loans that may or may not be outstanding, as far as the public is concerned, it certainly raises questions about whether there could be conflicts, whether decisions could be affected by these financial interests.
Paxton faces allegations of accepting bribes and abusing his office’s power. The Senate, comprising 31 members, requires a two-thirds majority to remove Paxton from office.
The financial ties between Paxton and Patrick are particularly significant, given Patrick’s role in presiding over the trial. In addition to the direct loan, Patrick and Paxton share financial backers, Defend Texas Liberty PAC, a conservative group financed by oil billionaires Tim Dunn and Ferris Wilks.
The group has given Paxton $2 million in the last year, including a $750,000 loan. To Patrick the group has donated $100,000, and its predecessor Empower Texans -backed by the same billionaires- has funneled at least $850,000 to the Lt. Governor.
While loans between political campaigns are legal and common, their outstanding nature raises concerns about the influence of financial interests on decision-making.
In addition, Sen. Angela Paxton, received several loans from her husband’s campaign, which she has yet to repay, underscoring what experts say is evidence enough for Angela to recuse herself.
“There’s no doubt in my mind both historically and legally that Angela Paxton does need to recuse herself, and should be forced to recuse herself,” said Jeremi Suri, a professor of public affairs and history at the University of Texas at Austin.
The trial is set to begin later this summer, and the Senate’s rules for the proceedings will be established soon. To maintain the integrity of the trial, impartiality is crucial. Senators must assess their ability to be impartial and recuse themselves if they perceive conflicts of interest that could compromise their neutrality.