On primary night two months ago, Ken Paxton had an 11-point edge over Dan Branch in the Republican race for attorney general. Since then, Paxton has been fined for breaking a state securities law. With the May 27 runoff looming, both candidates are vying for the state’s top legal office. In an interview with KERA, Paxton defended his record.
Paxton, a state senator, was reprimanded last week by the Texas State Securities Board and paid a $1,000 fine. He’s a lawyer in McKinney and said securities laws are complicated -- and people often make unintended mistakes.
“Listen, there’s no lawyer out there who’s an expert on every area of the law,” Paxton told KERA. “Just take the tax code. There’s no lawyer in this country that understands the entire tax code. If they put the regulations on my desk, they would stack up well over my head. Securities law are very complicated. Even some experts disagree over what things mean because they’re not always clear.”
Paxton calls the ethics violation an administrative oversight. The Securities Board said he solicited business from clients when he wasn’t registered to do so, even though the law requires it. He also failed to report that he sat on several nonprofit boards, which is also required by law. Paxton says he’s taken care of both issues and is happy to move on.
But Branch’s campaign says most lawyers know not to break the law.
Here’s Branch, a state representative from Dallas, at a recent forum: “We have to have transparency. We have open government,” Branch said. “That’s why we have certain laws. That’s why we’re required to make certain filings. The voters need to know whether or not one of their officials violated civil or criminal law.”
The attorney general is also the state’s top lawyer. Paxton’s fine prompted the Allen Police Association to rescind its endorsement. And Barry Smitherman, who was eliminated in the primary, endorsed Branch Thursday. He said the position requires compliance with both the letter and spirit of the law.
So are voters affected?
“I’m sure it will have some impact on the candidacy, but I think he was far enough ahead that it will not be detrimental," says Daniel Long, president of the Plano Homeowner’s Council. He’s wavering a bit now, but Paxton is a favorite son. The council held a forum last week and invited the candidates three weeks earlier. Branch showed. Paxton didn’t.
That’s become an issue in the race. Branch says at forum after forum, Paxton hasn’t shown up.
“I’m out every day,” Paxton says. “I did three different speeches on Wednesday, I was out yesterday speaking. The homeowners group, I don’t think we knew about in time to schedule it. I can tell you I’m usually out the door by 7 o'clock and getting back at 10, 11, 12, 1, 2 in the morning, every day.”
And Paxton says at those engagements, he accuses Branch of co-authoring a large state tax increase and offering an amendment for third-trimester abortions, saying Branch is running significantly to the right of his own record. Branch denies each charge.