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Public Citizen Calls for Texas Attorney General to Recuse Himself From Records Request

May 14, 2004

Public Citizen Calls for Texas Attorney General to Recuse Himself From Records Request

Group Says Abbott May Have a Conflict in Pending Request for Information in Criminal Investigation

AUSTIN – Public Citizen, a government ethics watchdog group, is requesting that   Texas   Attorney General Gregg Abbott recuse himself and appoint an impartial outsider to rule on an open records request involving the ongoing investigation of various 2002 campaigns for state offices.

In a letter sent today to Abbott, Public Citizen said that Abbott may have a conflict that prevents him from making an impartial ruling on the records request. Abbott may have an interest in impeding the investigation – by ruling that the records are open – because the investigation could touch on Abbott’s own 2002 campaign, Public Citizen contends.

The records request was filed with the Travis County district attorney by Andy Taylor, an attorney for the Texas Association of Business and former attorney for Texans for a Republican Majority. Taylor is seeking documents relating to the district attorney’s investigation of possible illegal use of corporate money during the 2002 state elections. Both groups are being investigated as part of that probe for laundering corporate funds in the 2002 elections, and the requests they have filed so far have slowed the investigation.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has asked Abbott to rule on whether these documents must be released under the open records law.

Abbott’s campaign may be swept into the investigation, which is focusing on attack ads that aided many Republicans, including Abbott, in their races.

“To prevent any appearance that he might be protecting his personal and political interests, we call on Attorney General Abbott to acknowledge the potential conflict, recuse himself from any decision regarding Mr. Taylor’s open records request, and ask an impartial outsider to review this request.” said Tom “Smitty Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen. 

Smith said that some may claim that Public Citizen’s concerns are motivated by partisan politics, but he noted that Public Citizen’s Texas office has been involved in ethics issues for almost 20 years and has commented on the ethics of both Democratic and Republican officeholders over the years.  Public Citizen has been very involved in ethics controversies involving Democratic officeholders such as former Texas House   Speaker Gib Lewis, former Attorneys General Jim Mattox and Dan Morales, former   Comptroller Bob Bullock, and others. On at least six occasions, Public Citizen has filed complaints with the attorney general, and district or county attorneys over various conflicts of interest or illegal campaign activities.

“Our interest in these matters is to ensure that no party is unfairly benefited by the activities of state officeholders,” Smith said.