Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton breaks silence on out-of-state properties
After months of not answering The Texas Newsroom’s questions about the properties, Paxton was reached on Tuesday at a campaign event for a Texas House candidate in San Antonio. At first he declined to comment.
When pressed on the issue, as well as whether he also owns a long-term care facility just north of Austin, the attorney general insisted he has done nothing wrong.
“I’ve disclosed everything I’m required to disclose. That's not why I'm here. I’m here to talk about what’s going on in these elections, and not talk about some made-up issue,” Paxton told Texas Public Radio.
“On its face, yes, it would seem like there is probably an issue there,” said Andrew Cates, a lawyer who wrote a book about state ethics law. “We won’t know, until basically all of the facts are dragged out, if somebody filed a complaint.”
Once a year, public officials must file personal financial statements that detail their assets, including homes they own, stocks, business interests and other income. The statements are meant to offer the public insight into how they make their money and ensure they don’t have conflicts of interest.
But Paxton did not include at least a half dozen properties he or his blind trusts own on his financial disclosure report covering 2022, The Texas Newsroom revealed in December. The properties are in Florida, Hawaii, Oklahoma and Utah and have a collective market value of more than $6 million.
At least one, a five bedroom luxury cabin in Oklahoma, was available for rent on the vacation site Vrbo and through a local property management company.
Paxton has held elected office, and therefore has been filing these annual financial statements, for 20 years. But in his most recent report covering 2022, which he filed in June, Paxton wrote that he believes state disclosure rules are unclear and pledged to ask the Texas Ethics Commission for guidance “in the coming days.”
Seven months later, Paxton has not sought an opinion from the commission on what he needs to disclose to the public. It’s unclear if he will.
Investigators hired during the impeachment inquiry were looking into Paxton’s personal finances, including his property holdings. When asked about the out-of-state properties at the time, Paxton’s lawyer Tony Buzbee told The Wall Street Journal that the attorney general financed the buying spree by tapping long-term savings from a brokerage account.
The FBI is also reportedly investigating Paxton based on the same corruption allegations underlying his impeachment.
The state health agency also lists Paxton’s blind trust as the owner of a long-term care facility in Cedar Park.
However, neither the attorney general nor his trust are among the owners listed on the facility’s most recent state paperwork. When asked about this discrepancy, the agency said ownership information is submitted by a corporation’s “designee.”
Attempts to reach the manager of the LLC on the state paperwork have been unsuccessful.
This property is also not on his most recent personal financial statement, although Paxton once listed the LLC among his business interests. He placed this investment in his blind trust in 2015, according to his personal financial statement covering that year.
The Cedar Park property was sold in September and the facility’s state license expired in November. Attempts to reach the new owner were unsuccessful.
Elected officials can update their annual reports within 14 days of finding or being informed of an error. The Texas Ethics Commission can proactively investigate alleged violations of these rules, or any state resident can file a complaint against someone they believe is breaking the law.
The maximum penalty is $5,000 per violation or triple the amount at issue, whichever is greater.
State ethics regulators declined to say whether they have initiated an investigation into Paxton.
“State law demands that the TEC conduct much of its enforcement process confidentially,” General Counsel James Tinley told The Texas Newsroom. “Consequently, [commission] staff neither comments on a particular filer's reports to the press, nor does it confirm or deny the existence of pending investigations.”
Note: The Texas Newsroom is the collaboration among NPR and the public radio stations in the state, including KUT in Austin, Texas Public Radio in San Antonio, KERA in North Texas and Houston Public Media.