Ever since taking over complete control of our state’s government the GOP has had it out for the Public Integrity Unit (PIU) that resides inside the Travis County District Attorney’s office. The Democrats, when they were in power, didn’t like it much either. Which means it probably does a good job. The PIU is known for taking on political corruption in our state – see Tom DeLay. But as Nate Blakeslee points out, Sneak Attack on Public Integrity Unit?, the PIU does much more.
The Public Integrity Unit doesn’t just do public corruption investigations—it also prosecutes insurance fraud and tax fraud, including on sales of gasoline and tobacco. In the last 4 years, the unit has recovered over $8 million in restitution. With no funding, those investigations would cease, too. In other words, Zedler wouldn’t just be screwing the men and women of the Public Integrity Unit, he’d be screwing the taxpayers of Texas–which is something that Tom Delay would not have appreciated.
They’re also looking into Gov. Perry’s cancer agency, CPRIT. Which is likely why Perry is making threats.
A number of Republican efforts have failed to dislodge her from the office, which she steadfastly has maintained that she intends to keep. As the Travis County DA, Lehmberg’s office also oversees the public integrity unit that investigates malfeasance by public officials.
The problem with Perry’s insistence that she step down or see all funding cut for the public integrity unit is that the office currently is investigating Perry appointees and their roles in awarding millions in public money to cancer research outfits — some that had ties to Perry backers — that failed to undergo the normal vetting process.
Glenn Smith, director of the Democratic group Progress Texas political action committee, filed a criminal complaint last year with the district attorney’s office over the dealings in the Cancer Prevention and Reseach Institute of Texas.
Smith said he is alarmed the the governor would veto money for the public integrity unit, seeing such a move as a gross conflict of interest.
“Killing funding for the public integrity unit obviously would end the investigation into CPRIT, which is looking at at diversions of public money to Perry cronies,” Smith said.
Rich Parsons, spokesman for the governor, said Perry is concerned at the integrity of the district attorney’s office under Lehmberg. Perry would appoint her replacement should she step down.
And Texans for Public Justice is alleging those threats may be illegal, Governor’s Threats to Travis County DA Likely Violate the Law Says TPJ Complaint.
In a complaint sent to prosecutors today, Texans for Public Justice alleges that Governor Rick Perry potentially committed several criminal offenses related to his recent threatto use his discretionary power to withhold money from the Travis County District Attorney’soffice unless DA Rosemary Lehmberg resigns. TPJ believes the governor’s actions violate the Texas Penal Code, Title 8, Offenses Against Public Administration.
“Governor Perry has no legal authority to remove the Travis Country District Attorney from her job. Threatening to take an official action against her office unless she voluntarily resigns is likely illegal,” said Craig McDonald, TPJ Director.
“The governor overstepped his authority by sticking his nose in Travis County’s business. Alegal process is currently underway. That process is alone should determine the fate of the District Attorney.
“Governor Perry’s official threats attempt to obtain two things that he can’t achieve through legal democratic means. First, to remove an elected Democrat and replace her with an appointedRepublican DA. Second, to wipe out the state’s public corruption watchdog, which is currently investigating corruption in at least one of the governor’s signature corporate subsidy programs.
Of course all of this was only made possible because of the horrible decisioin that Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg made in driving drunk and her actions while under arrest. But it’s clear that Perry and the wing nuts see this as a great excuse to take power from the PIU which is one of the best checks the people of Texas have on power. And of course Perry sees it as a way to deal with a possible political problem, by appointing a loyalist to a position to make a possible problem go away. It wouldn’t be the first time, see John Bradley and the Forensic Sciences Commission.
There are petitions pending to remove Lehmberg and a recent Statesman editorial asked Perry’s move unseemly.
Lawsuits citing intoxication and official misconduct have been filed to remove Lehmberg from office. They are winding their way toward a trial date.
The governor would clearly be acting within his authority if he were to line out the integrity unit’s budget. But just because he can doesn’t mean he should. Instead, Perry should let the petitions take their legal course. Instead, the governor is threatening to neuter the Public Integrity Unit to force Lehmberg to resign, and by getting involved in this way Perry is complicating matters he should let Lehmberg and others deal with.
In a senatorial understatement to Ward, Democratic state Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin said it would be “very unfortunate if the governor is going to do this.” Indeed.
We’ll be more direct than Watson: It’s unseemly politics.
While Lehmberg’s mistake was bad she plead guilty, did her time in jail, and is now in treatment. It doesn’t make up for what she did but it looks like she is trying to atone. But Perry sticking his nose into this, in a big way, might be enough to make those who saw this as a non-political issue to think twice. Clearly those in power see this as a golden opportunity to move against the PIU, which they’ve been after for a long time.
Perry will veto Integrity Unit funds unless Lehmberg resigns.