AUSTIN – Attorney General Ken Paxton recently announced a hefty $2.8 million campaign haul, showing the competition he can still raise big bucks while under FBI scrutiny.
But where most of the money came from is a mystery.
Paxton has yet to name all his campaign donors, despite a deadline last week that required disclosure.
Among the missing are those who paid up to $50,000 to rub elbows with Paxton and former President Donald Trump at a fundraiser in December. Entry to the private reception, held at Trump’s swanky Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, started at $1,000.
Paxton’s campaign blamed technical issues for the delay and promised to file an update once fixed. But the campaign has not said when and a spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Lax state ethics laws give Paxton little incentive to move quickly, open government advocates said. The fine for turning in his campaign finance report late is a flat $500, no matter whether it is tardy by a day or a month.
“Texas has the weakest, most corruption-prone campaign finance system in the country,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas. “It is striking that our top law enforcement official can’t manage to meet our extremely low disclosure requirements.”
All statewide candidates had to file reports by midnight Jan. 18 that detailed their fundraising and spending in the second half of 2021. The accounts offer a glimpse at campaigns’ financial health heading into the final stretch before the March 1 primary.
Three Republicans are vying to oust Paxton in what many see as the marquee GOP primary race. Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert all posted seven-figure fundraising hauls last week.
Paxton did too. But his report came a day late and named the donors who gave just $652,000 of his $2.77 million total. Details dropped off for contributions made after mid-October.
The report is notable because Paxton’s fundraising was dwindling in late 2020 after several top staffers accused him of abusing the office to help a campaign donor and the FBI began investigating. Paxton has denied wrongdoing, but his GOP challengers say the scandal makes Paxton unfit for office and leaves the post vulnerable to Democratic flip.
Paxton’s fundraising fortunes seem to have shifted last summer when Trump endorsed his bid for a third term as attorney general. The fundraiser at Trump’s club on Dec. 9 reportedly netted Paxton’s campaign a whopping $750,000 – more than he reported raising in the months of July, August and September combined.
Those donors should be disclosed in Paxton’s campaign finance report. Only people who write checks or give cash worth less than about $90 don’t have to be named.
Staff for the Texas Ethics Commission, which oversees campaign finance reporting, have been in touch with Paxton’s campaign, general counsel J.R. Johnson said in a statement. But Johnson said he is “unaware of any planned date for an updated filing.”
In an explanation attached to the report filed on Dec. 19, Paxton’s campaign said it ran into technical issues with the commission’s electronic filing software. After hours of trying to upload the report on time, the campaign brought in “an expert to assist with the filing” and still faced problems, the report said.
“In an effort to promote transparency, this original report is filed at the earliest possible juncture and reflects the correct totals on the cover pages,” Paxton’s report said, adding that the campaign planned to submit an amended version once the “complete data set can be uploaded.”
The filing did not offer a timetable.
No other major campaign seemed to face similar issues. More than 1,400 candidates, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, filed their recent campaign finance reports by the deadline, according to the Texas Ethics Commission.
“TEC staff has confirmed that the filing system was functioning properly and that we did not experience any server-side technical issues during this reporting deadline,” Johnson said.
It’s important for voters to know who is donating to a candidate, Gutierrez said, especially in a state where there’s no cap on contributions.
“We really can’t make decisions about whether a public official is acting in our best interest or the interest of some random rich person unless we know who those rich people are giving their money to,” he said.
Other campaign finance reports reveal some of the donors missing from Paxton’s filing.
Political action committees for Texas Realtors, auto dealers, McDonald’s operators and beer distributors together gave Paxton’s campaign about $100,000 in December, according to their own reports.
The campaign of former state Sen. Kevin Eltife, who is now chairman of the University of Texas Board of Regents, chipped in $2,500 to Paxton’s reelection bid in November, his report said.