Public Integrity Unit

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: On Aug. 15, a Travis County grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry for abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. Perry, the state’s longest-serving governor, entered into political fisticuffs with Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg last summer when she refused to step down after her much-publicized arrest for drunk driving. Perry had made it clear that he would not allow state financial support to continue flowing to the Public Integrity Unit — which prosecutes political misconduct across the state and is overseen by Lehmberg — if she did not heed his calls for her resignation. In the face of her disobedience, Perry made good on his threat and vetoed $7.5 million of state funding for the PIU. At the time, the unit was investigating misconduct at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, but not by Perry himself, according to a Travis County prosecutor. Perry entered a plea of “not guilty” to both charges on Aug. 22. On Aug. 24, Democrat Mindy Montford, an Austin defense attorney, confirmed that Perry had offered her the job. Below, we have sought the opinions of key leaders of College Republicans on the matter. This is part of a Point/Counterpoint. To see the opposing viewpoint, click here

We have to admit, we are not law students. However, it doesn’t take much legal know-how to understand the recent charges against Gov. Rick Perry are nothing more than political theatrics caused by a scorned district attorney’s office. But as a history major, Amy recognizes that this DA’s office is notorious for unsuccessfully attacking major Republican politicians, from former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to former Congressman Tom DeLay. This is another desperate attempt for Democrats to maintain power in Travis County while taxpayers foot the bill. 

When Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg — who’s ironically the head of the state’s Public Integrity Unit — was arrested for drunk driving, she completely tarnished her office. Not only was Lehmberg driving with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit, she berated police officers, had to be restrained and was forced to wear a “spit shield” to stop her from spitting on the jail staff. Soon after this occurred, footage of Lehmberg’s erratic behavior during her booking was made public on YouTube. 

Anyone with an ounce of integrity would have apologetically stepped down from the office after an incident like this. Lehmberg selfishly continued to run the Public Integrity Unit even though she had previously endangered the lives of Texas residents and verbally abused policemen. Naturally, Perry asked Lehmberg to resign from her office. When she remained defiant, Perry said he’d defund her unit, which would result in the loss of her position. Again, Lehmberg defied Perry’s request and, unsurprisingly, he vetoed the spending bill to the Public Integrity Unit. 

The exchange between Perry and Lehmberg is a classic example of shrewd political bargaining. It is seen in all levels of government. If this qualifies as coercion, then it could be applied to almost any political power struggle. There is no need to create a legal precedent that allows common political squabbles to be criminally prosecuted. However, given the history of the Travis County DA’s office, we all know this is a purely political prosecution, most likely initiated out of a fear that Perry would appoint a Republican DA. Even liberals outside of Texas agree this is a shoddy indictment. From The New York Times to David Axelrod, there is national public criticism from the left.

Texas Democrats can claim Perry used bad judgment or that he should have sought another route to remove Lehmberg, but to pin him as a felon is childish. They don’t care if this lengthy case will be paid by taxpayers, or that our governor could spend the rest of his life in prison, as long as they control their blue dot in a deeply red state. 

Pursuing this case against Perry is more than just reckless with taxpayer money. It sets a terrible precedent of interfering with how officeholders carry out their duties. Perry fully explains the reasoning for his veto of the Public Integrity Unit’s funding, which has become the focus of the indictment. The governor states that “despite the otherwise good work [of] the Public Integrity Unit’s employees, I cannot in good conscience support continued State funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence. This unit is in no other way held accountable to state taxpayers, except through the State budgetary process. I therefore object to and disapprove of this appropriation.” Perry has simply used his constitutionally-mandated power of a veto to shape policy. He even replaced the old district attorney with another Democrat, demonstrating this wasn’t even about politics for Perry. If the governor can be charged for ensuring through legal means that the Public Integrity Unit has a leader with integrity, what is an appropriate use of constitutionally-mandated powers? No politician — Republican or Democrat — benefits from an environment where a use of legal power becomes illegal simply because it makes the other side unhappy. 

Laws concerning coercion and abuse of power by public officials were never meant to stop actions sanctioned by one’s office. They were meant to combat outright violations of an officeholder’s duties like bribery and embezzlement. These laws should never be weaponized to fight in political disputes. Let debates and elections decide the merits of legal acts by our public servants. A fear of indictment and even punishment for performing legal actions only hinders officeholders from carrying out the duties of their office.

The indictment of Perry is reckless for many reasons. The governor never should have been prosecuted for using powers sanctioned by his office to remove an official who had so obviously failed in her duties. The case against Perry is largely frivolous and sets a dangerous precedent of using courts as a battleground for political disputes.     

Nabozny is the president of College Republicans. She is a history junior from Farmington Hills, Michigan. Parker is the communications director of College Republicans. He is a Plan II and Business Honors sophomore from Plano.

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: On Aug. 15, a Travis County grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry for abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. Perry, the state’s longest-serving governor, entered into political fisticuffs with Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg last summer when she refused to step down after her much-publicized arrest for drunk driving. Perry had made it clear that he would not allow state financial support to continue flowing to the Public Integrity Unit which prosecutes political misconduct across the state and is overseen by Lehmberg if she did not heed his calls for her resignation. In the face of her disobedience, Perry made good on his threat and vetoed $7.5 million of state funding for the PIU. At the time, the unit was investigating misconduct at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, but not by Perry himself, according to a Travis County prosecutor. Perry entered a plea of “not guilty” to both charges on Aug. 22. On Aug. 24, Democrat Mindy Montford, an Austin defense attorney, confirmed that Perry had offered her the job. Below, we have sought the opinions of key leaders of University Democrats on the matter. This is part of a Point/Counterpoint. To see the opposing viewpoint, click here

Texas hasn’t indicted a sitting governor in 97 years. On Aug. 15, Gov. Rick Perry broke that streak with his two-count felony indictment for abuse of power and coercion.

Though the indictment does not paint a pretty picture of Texas politics, it would be far worse to sweep corruption under the rug in the interest of saving face. As embarrassing as this process is, the indictment proceedings demonstrate a judicial process devoted to uncovering truths Perry’s office would rather keep hidden.

Fundamentally, this case illuminates the investigation the Public Integrity Unit (PIU) was conducting into a scandal involving the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). Accusations that CPRIT was funneling funds intended for life-saving cancer research toward Republican donors prompted an investigation. In December, a former CPRIT official was indicted for improperly handing grants to a company backed by a wealthy Perry donor.

Naturally, this must have made Perry extremely nervous. It has been said that God helps three kinds of people: fools, children and drunkards. It was certainly a stroke of luck for Perry that the elected official responsible for the PIU, Rosemary Lehmberg, picked this time to drive drunk. Providence helped her from hurting anyone other than herself. With this providential windfall, Perry immediately began calling for her resignation — a win-win situation. Either she resigned or he would veto PIU’s funding, and either way the CPRIT investigation would halt.

Yet an odor of mendacity permeated the good governor’s self-righteous demand. Two other district attorneys — curiously, both Republicans — have been convicted of DWIs during his administration. The governor made no demands that they step down. Of course, neither DA was investigating the shady financial dealings of organizations closely tied to the governor’s office.

Governor Perry offered a quid pro quo — DA Lehmberg’s resignation in exchange for continued funding of the PIU. Without question, Perry has the constitutional power to veto legislation. What the constitution does not grant him is the power to coerce the resignation of a public official. The indictment was never about the veto. It was about Perry threatening to defund the PIU unless DA Lehmberg resigned and offering to restore funding only if she resigned.

Texans deserve a high standard of behavior from their publicly-elected officials. Expecting the executive branch not to stoop to coercion and abuse of power isn’t a terribly stringent standard; it is the bare minimum we should demand from our public servants. Ultimately, we have rules in our democracy and instead of respecting those rules, Perry, apparently too long in office)decided they didn’t apply to him.

Though right-wing pundits would have people believe otherwise, this felony indictment showcases the impartiality of our judicial system. The initial complaint was the result of an independent investigation by a nonpartisan group of citizens. The presiding judge, Republican Bert Richardson, is a George W. Bush appointee. Judge Richardson appointed Michael McCrum as the special prosecutor to oversee the investigation. Every Travis County Democratic official has recused themselves from the case. And it would be a trifle ridiculous to claim that the randomly selected grand jury is a group with a partisan agenda. It is difficult to discern the pattern of partisan abuse in this case.

This is how our judicial system is supposed to work. A grand jury reviewed witness testimony and evidence for months before they decided that there was enough to issue a two-count felony indictment. Perry will now avail himself of our judicial system, though at least he has been publicly shamed into paying his lawyers out of pocket, rather than with the tax dollars he had been using.

CPRIT officials engaged in questionable financial dealings. When the government office responsible for investigating became involved, Rick Perry panicked and responded with threats and intimidation. Now his only recourse is to shift blame from his own questionable actions onto a DA who has already paid her debt to society. Texans are smart enough to see this for what it is — the last resort of a man backed into a corner.

Regrettably, the entire situation is embarrassing for Texans. Our state’s highest office is held by a man who has clearly demonstrated flagrant disregard for the rule of law. The felony indictments are just the latest example of corruption from Texas’ longest-serving governor. Perhaps it is time for Texans to show our governor that we will not stand by while he reduces our office of the governor to the level of a playground bully hopelessly mired in partisan squabbles. Let us take a page from his playbook and call for his resignation and cross our fingers that he doesn’t further embarrass us with yet another run for president.

Adams is the communications director for the University Democrats. She is a mechanical engineering senior from Dripping Springs.

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

Update (Aug. 16): Gov. Rick Perry addressed the grand jury's indictments at a press conference at the Texas State Capitol on Saturday, calling them a "farce."

“I intend to fight against those who would erode our state’s constitution and laws purely for political purposes, and I intend to win,” Perry said. “We don’t settle political differences with indictments in this county.”

Perry said he would explore all legal avenues to bring the issue to a close quickly. Before turning the discussion to the border, Perry defended his decision to veto legislation providing $7.5 million in state funds to the Travis County District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit, which brought about Friday's indictment.

“I wholeheartedly and unequivocally stand behind my veto and will continue to defend this lawful action of my executive authority as governor,” Perry said.

Original Story (Aug. 15): A Travis County grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry on felony charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant Friday.

The charges against Perry carry punishments of 5-99 years and 2-10 years, respectively, each with fines of up to $10,000.

The charges are related to Perry’s attempts to force the resignation of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg after she was arrested for drunken driving in April 2013.

Perry vetoed legislation in June 2013 that would provide $7.5 million in state funds to the district attorney's public integrity unit. He had previously threatened to take such actions against her.

“I cannot in good conscience support continued state funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence,” Perry said at the time.  

The Texas Democrats have called for Perry to step down, saying he “has brought dishonor to his office, his family and the state of Texas," in a statement on its website.

Perry, who has served as governor since 2000, decided not to seek reelection and will leave the position when his term ends in January.

Travis County commissioners are considering ways to restore funds to the state's Public Integrity Unit that Gov. Rick Perry cut out of the state budget.

Commissioners tell the Austin American-Statesman they are considering offering $3.7 million in county funds to the unit, which is based in the county district attorney's office. On Tuesday they are also expected to also consider a proposal to pass the hat among other counties to keep the unit going. Meanwhile, the commission majority will press the state to release funds for the unit responsible for investigating wrongdoing by public officials.

Perry has cut the $7.5 million in state funding for the unit for the next two years. He and leading Republican lawmakers cited District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg's refusal to resign after her drunken-driving conviction.

Rick Perry vetoes funding for Public Integrity Unit

Funding for state’s Public Integrity Unit disappeared last week with a wave of Gov. Rick Perry’s hand. Now, some say the only way the unit can survive is if Travis County picks up the $3.5 million yearly tab.

Perry used a line-item veto to kill funding for the unit, housed in Travis County and the prime investigator of corruption by public officials and fraud. State funding for the unit will cease August 31 and not be renewed for at least another two years.

The unit’s jurisdiction is statewide, meaning it has the authority to investigate certain cases in other counties. More than half of its pending cases, 280 out of 400, have a Travis County connection. It currently has 34 employees.

Travis County commissioners heard testimony from the unit’s leadership Monday but did not decide on whether to fund the unit. Commissioners said they would meet in two weeks to take action.

 “It’s a financial surprise to all of the taxpayers that have to foot the bill,” said Travis County Commissioner Ron Davis.

Davis said since the unit investigates corruption cases across the entire state, he wants to look for a way to cost-share funding the unit with other counties. 

By issuing his veto, Perry made true on his promise to cut funding for the unit if Rosemary Lehmberg, the embattled Travis County district attorney, did not resign from her post. Republican lawmakers have hammered Lehmberg, a democrat, for being convicted of a DWI in April and insist she resign.

If she resigns, Perry will appoint her replacement. Lehmberg has said although she will not resign, she will not seek reelection and seek professional help.

Lehmberg made her first public appearance since her DWI conviction at the meeting and upheld the unit’s role to investigate corruption in Texas.

“The work remains. The governor’s veto does not affect responsibility,” Lehmberg said.