AUSTIN (Nexstar) — On Saturday, former GOP appellate judge Marc Brown declined a prestigious appointment by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to assist in presiding over suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial. He had a history of political donations that could harm the public’s trust, he said, after donating $250 to Eva Guzman — one of Paxton’s 2022 primary opponents who campaigned on assertions that the now-suspended Attorney General was unfit for office.
“The proceedings… are far too important to the State of Texas for there to be any distractions involving allegations of favoritism or personal bias on my part,” he said.
Patrick accepted his declination. Yet former campaign contributions have not impacted the ability of others to decide Paxton’s fate.
Multiple state senators have contributed money to political campaigns both for and against Paxton. They will now decide whether to permanently remove him from office.
Campaign donations from Paxton jurors
Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston)
According to Texas Ethics Commission records, Galveston-area state senator Mayes Middleton donated $300,000 to Louie Gohmert, the East Texas Congressman who ran to unseat Paxton in 2022. The donation came on Nov. 26, 2021 — just four days after Gohmert announced his campaign. Gohmert based his campaign on Paxton’s “improprieties,” often citing the Attorney General’s fraud and bribery accusations.
José Menéndez (D-San Antonio)
In September 2022, San Antonio state senator José Menéndez donated $1,000 to Rochelle Garza, the Democratic candidate for Attorney General in 2022. That donation was made just two weeks before the general election.
Kevin Sparks (R-Midland)
In June 2021, Midland state senator Kevin Sparks donated $2,500 to Ken Paxton.
‘No longer impartial’
The donations have some watchdog groups calling for stricter standards on the possible influence of money over these quasi-judicial proceedings.
“They shouldn’t participate in this process because, by virtue of having made that donation, they’re no longer impartial,” Public Citizen’s Texas Director Adrian Shelley said. “If money has changed hands between you and somebody who’s involved in the impeachment process, it would be a good idea to recuse yourself from the process if you really did want to remove even the appearance of any kind of bias.”
Public Citizen is advocating for new state laws that prohibit campaign donations to state senators during impeachment proceedings, similar to the existing ban during legislative sessions.
“Everything that’s happening right now, although it doesn’t look good, it’s legal. What we need long-term is a legislature that says, ‘enough is enough. We need to keep the money away from these important decisions,'” Shelley said. “We don’t have great ethics controls in Texas. This would be one thing that we could do to help remove that appearance of bias in the process.”
Patrick’s $3 million gift
In June, Patrick accepted a $3 million donation from Defend Texas Liberty, a political action committee that has been campaigning against the impeachment of Ken Paxton.
The organization’s leaders have implied the donation was to curry favor from the trial’s presiding officer.
“This is just the beginning, wait till you see the next report,” Defending Texas Liberty founder Jonathan Stickland wrote on social media in July. “We will never stop. Ever. Grassroots conservatives will be heard.”
Patrick has maintained senators will weigh the evidence impartially.
“The citizens of Texas can count on the Senate of Texas to have a fair and just trial,” he said.