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6 large donors fuel Ken Paxton’s post-impeachment campaign fundraising

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

6 large donors fuel Ken Paxton’s post-impeachment campaign fundraising” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton attracted six six-figure donors in his first fundraising report since the House impeached him in May. But the report provides little clarity on how he is paying for his legal defense — or who is paying for it.

The report, due Monday and published Tuesday, covers his fundraising for the final 12 days of June, a narrower-than-usual window due to a moratorium on fundraising around the regular legislative session.

Paxton raised $1.7 million over the period, a figure he announced Monday, hailing it as a triumph despite the impeachment. It was the most Paxton had raised in a post-session fundraising period following a statewide election, topping the $1.4 million he collected during a comparable period in 2019.

His report shows that $1.2 million of the $1.7 million came from six supporters who gave at least $100,000 each. The top donor, at $500,000, was Gary Heavin, the founder of the fitness chain Curves International. Heavin is from the Waco suburb of Woodway.

Paxton’s second-largest donor was Doug Scharbauer, who contributed $250,000. Scharbauer is a Midland oil mogul who is a regular major donor to Texas Republicans.

Paxton’s other six-figure donors included two other Midland oilmen, Tim Dunn ($150,000) and Kyle Stallings ($100,000), as well as Dallas hotelier Monty Bennett ($100,000). A sixth donor, Midland’s William Holmes, wrote Paxton three smaller checks that added up to $100,000. All are common GOP megadonors, and Dunn is especially supportive of the far right in Texas.

[Pro-Paxton group gives $3 million to impeachment trial judge Dan Patrick]

Dunn is a top funder of Defend Texas Liberty PAC, which funneled $3 million to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on his latest fundraising reports. Patrick serves as the presiding officer of the impeachment trial, effectively its judge.

The House impeached Paxton in late May, accusing him of a yearslong pattern of lawbreaking and misconduct. He was immediately suspended from office and now faces a trial, set to begin Sept. 5, in the Senate on whether to permanently remove him.

The fundraising moratorium meant that Paxton could not start raising campaign cash again until June 19. The reporting period ended 11 days later.

Paxton’s report was not only highly anticipated for what it revealed about his political support but also for whether it would provide clarity on how he is paying for his legal defense. However, the filing leaves those questions mostly unanswered.

Most of Paxton’s $1 million in spending for the period came from two expenses: a $480,000 repayment of a 2022 campaign loan and a $250,000 payment to his political consulting firm, Axiom Strategies.

Paxton did disclose $59,000 in debt to The Gober Group, an Austin-based Republican political law firm, for legal services. The firm’s principal, Chris Gober, said in an email he would defer comment to Paxton’s team on the details of the arrangement.

Paxton’s team has declined to detail how he is paying for his legal defense, which is led by high-priced Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee.

“I’m not being paid by the public. That’s all you need to know,” Buzbee said at a news conference shortly after he was named Paxton’s lead impeachment lawyer.

Asked for comment for this story, a spokesperson for Paxton’s team, Jeff Norwood, said in an email that the campaign “will comply with all rules regarding the disclosure of expenditures and contributions.”

State law generally approves of officeholders using campaign funds for legal defense — as long as the allegations are related to their status as an elected official.

It comes down to whether the campaign funds are being tapped for “personal use,” which is prohibited. The law says personal use does not include “defending a criminal action or prosecuting or defending a civil action brought by or against the person in the person’s status as a candidate or officeholder.”

Paxton’s next campaign finance report is not due until January, meaning any legal payments his campaign made after June 30 would not be disclosed until then. The election code says campaigns have to report expenditures as soon as their value is “readily determinable,” unless they are being paid to a vendor who bills periodically.

Paxton could also be opting against using campaign funds for his legal defense altogether. After he was indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015, he collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in “gifts” to pay for his legal defense.

He had to disclose those gifts on his personal financial disclosure, which state officials must file annually for the years when they are not up for election.

If Paxton were funding his latest legal defense that way, it would take a long time for the public to learn about it. His personal financial disclosure for this year is not due until next spring.

Disclosure: Tony Buzbee has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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