Liberal group urges Dewhurst investigation
© 2008 The Associated Press
Sept. 3, 2008
AUSTIN — A campaign watchdog group urged local prosecutors Wednesday to launch a formal criminal investigation of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, saying his failure to disclose details of his vast wealth likely violates state law.
The complaint follows an Associated Press report about the lack of transparency in Dewhurst's personal financial statements. Said to be the richest man in Texas politics, most of his wealth is contained in a trust whose major assets are not disclosed.
Texans for Public Justice, a liberal group, called for the probe in a written complaint to Travis County Attorney David Escamilla. The group said Dewhurst, who wields tremendous influence as presiding officer of the state Senate, apparently violated disclosure laws by allegedly filing incomplete and misleading reports at the Texas Ethics Commission.
"The lieutenant governor should fulfill his disclosure obligations under the law," said TPJ Director Craig McDonald. "One of the most powerful state officials should not be allowed to hide his assets from the public."
Dewhurst, a Republican, said in a written statement that his disclosures "fully comply with the letter and spirit of the law."
Escamilla, a Democrat who investigates allegations of misdemeanor offenses by public officials, said he couldn't comment until he'd seen the letter from Texans for Public Justice.
Nowhere in Dewhurst's financial disclosure forms does it say the former CIA agent, through a privately held trust, is a major shareholder in a Houston energy and investment company. There's no mention of his far-flung cattle ranches, private bank investments or luxury condo. Nor is there any word of the hedge funds, stocks and bonds or publicly traded fuel distribution company he acknowledges are or have been part of a trust fund estimated to be worth up to $200 million.
It just says the David Dewhurst Trust is valued at "$25,000 or more."
Dewhurst told the AP last month that he had disclosed everything required under state law and that he never mixes his public duties with his private business. He bristled when asked how much he was worth, saying, "In Texas, we have a long tradition of not talking about the number of cattle you own or your net worth."
The disclosure statement Dewhurst files annually with the Texas Ethics Commission does not itemize holdings contained within his trust. The law requires the "identification of each trust asset, if known to the beneficiary, from which income was received by the beneficiary in excess of $500."
In a statement sent to reporters Wednesday, Dewhurst said he had followed "the advice of my expert legal counsel in filling out and filing my political financial statement to fully comply with the letter and spirit of the law, and it is a fact I do not know the assets in my trust from which I have received in excess of $500."
Dewhurst's lawyer, Ed Shack, has said Dewhurst can't identify which assets are producing more than that because the proceeds get "mixed up all together with all the other income."
Texans for Public Justice called that explanation "ludicrous" and said the alleged failure to meet disclosure amounts to a Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail.
Exceptions to the disclosure requirements are made for politicians who create blind trusts, an investment tool designed to create a firewall between public service and personal business dealings. But Dewhurst told the AP he decided against a blind trust years ago because doing so would mean he'd pay more taxes.
Dewhurst said he has been "squeaky clean" in his personal dealings. But the lack of disclosure makes it impossible to know if any of the actions he takes a government official might impact his own bottom line.
"When you're the lieutenant governor, the public has an absolute right to know how many cattle or other assets you own," McDonald said. "It's time for Lt. Gov. Dewhurst to drive his cattle out of the shadows and into the sunlight."