Complaints filed in Texas appeals court chief's re-election bidJustice Kenneth Law accused by campaign-finance group of civil, criminal violations.
By Laylan Copelin
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Texans for Public Justice filed criminal and civil complaints Wednesday against Chief Justice Kenneth Law, who's up for re-election to the 3rd Court of Appeals based in Austin.
In the complaints, the campaign-finance watchdog group accused Law of violating six areas of the state's campaign finance laws, including collecting $66,850 over seven months before he designated a campaign treasurer in January.
Law, a Republican, did not respond to a call for comment.
The complaints were filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. Two of the complaints also were given to Travis County Attorney David Escamilla because they involve possible misdemeanor violations. The two offices will review the complaints.
In the complaints, the judge also is accused of accepting $1,000 from an out-of-state political committee, KochPac, (the political arm of Koch Industries, which produces chemicals, fertilizers and other products) without providing the required information identifying the committee. Law also accepted $10,000 from Dallas businessman Harold Simmons — twice the legal limit that can be given to judicial candidates, according to the complaint.
Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, said some might argue that the things his group cites are minor problems with paperwork, but he said he was bothered by the overall pattern.
"It looks like we have a judge who is either incompetent or indifferent to campaign finance rules," McDonald said. "When we looked at his report, it was the totality of the errors that got our attention."
McDonald said Law terminated his campaign treasurer in 2002 when he filed a final report. McDonald said the Ethics Commission warned the justice in writing that he could not accept campaign contributions without designating a treasurer.
"If you did not intend to terminate your campaign treasurer appointment," the ethics agency letter said, "please contact our office immediately."
In 2007, as Law prepared for re-election, he apparently began raising money again but did not designate a treasurer until January. McDonald said the $66,850 represents about half of what Law had raised through the July 15 report.
Law is running this fall against Democrat Woodie Jones.
Raising money without a treasurer is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $4,000 and up to a year in jail. Law also could face about $200,000 in civil penalties for the other violations, according to the complaint.
Texans for Public Justice is a perennial gadfly on campaign issues, including high-profile cases involving former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who retired from Congress after being indicted on charges of laundering corporate money into campaign donations. He is awaiting trial.
Law is one of three Republican justices who last month upheld the constitutionality of the money-laundering statute but volunteered that the law at the time might not have included checks. That ruling could lead to the charges against DeLay being dismissed.
Democrats have complained that the GOP justices went beyond their scope to offer a defense to DeLay.