Corruption is in the DNA of the American political system. The English pilgrims and other Europeans, who saw America as a “land of opportunity,” brought their corrupt governance to this country. Long before the American Revolution occurred, “Royal governors and corporate placemen used their official positions to enrich themselves in every possible way,” reports “Many of them considered this a privilege of their offices.”


Therein lies the origins of corruption: the near-unanimous belief by every public officeholder that their elected or appointed governmental position gives them an inherent authority to use their work for personal profit or benefit. 


Officeholders in Texas, much more so than in most states, apparently believe that corruption is the primary privilege of office holding. Corruption gives them the power to not only benefit themselves but to please the needs of others in their orbit who need or desire enrichment of some form. Texas’ top law enforcement official, A.G. Ken Paxton, who awaits trial upon a felony indictment for felony securities fraud and is currently under investigation for by the FBI for allegations of corruption and bribery while in office, is just a glaring example of a problem that runs deep in the lone star state. 


East Texas Judge Resigns After Career of Corruption


Texas-style corruption was again exposed when an East Texas judge, who had sat on the bench in the sixth district of Texas since 2009, was effectively forced to resign in 2016 after receiving an official reprimand from the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct. 


66-year-old Eric Clifford, who had deep roots in political office holding in Lamar and Red River counties before being elected to his judgeship, violated virtually every rule of judicial conduct, a 400-page complaint included:


  • Threatening a police officer whose relatives were reportedly harassing a local court reporter;
  • Using his judgeship title and authority to influence his personal business interests;
  • Talking about a murder case he was presiding over while giving a speech to a local Kiwanis Club;
  • Telling defense attorneys he was going to send their clients away for the rest of their lives;
  • Using his appointment powers under the Texas Fair Defense Act to financially benefit the attorneys with whom he favored; and
  • Retaliating against the defense attorney who brought the complaint against the judge before the judicial commission.


Judge Eric Clifford resigned form his position after applying for and being granted a disability retirement after a scooter accident. He receives $70,000.00 a year.  Judge Clifford’s corruption was not an anomaly. 


Texas’ Long Legacy of Graft


The year before the judge’s political wrongdoing was exposed, the National Review, the voice of political conservatism, featured an article written by Kevin D. Williamson titled “Texas Has A Corruption Problem.” Williamson opened his article with these observations:


“… Texas is an insanely terrible place to do business: It has corrupt public officials — law-enforcement officers on the cartel dime, judges selling verdicts, members of a drug task force shepherding contraband from Mexico, school-board races in which cash and cocaine are traded for votes — along with a corrupt university system flouting its admissions rules for the family and friends of state legislators, a generous statewide economic-development program that swaps grants for job creation but fails to adequately keep track of either, an out-of-control prosecutor in charge of a state ethics office who, when she is not berating and threatening the police officers who have hauled her in on drunk-driving charges, uses her office as a political weapon — just as her predecessor in the office did — while the state’s Medicaid program alone is a cavalcade of hilariously unethical shenanigans: Texas’s Medicaid-fraud police are so bad at their job and spend so much money that a state audit suggested that taxpayers would be better off if the office did not exist; a former state actuary working on Medicaid fraud is being investigated for fraud; a purveyor of Medicaid-fraud-detection software won a state contract under questionable circumstances that led to the resignation of the top lawyer at the Health and Human Services Commission . . .”


The same year Judge Clifford was forced from the bench, the San Antonio Express-News carried an article written by John MacCormack titled “South Texas a hotbed of public corruption.” Three years later the Corpus Christi Times-Caller led with an article written by its Editorial Board titled, “This is a tale of nepotism and corruption at the top of state government.” Nine months after the Editorial Board of the Times-Caller lamented about corruption in state government, Craig McDonald, director of Texas for Public Justice, told Christopher Adams in an article published in Reform Austin (October 10, 2019) titled “Weed of corruption bears fruit all over Texas” that:


“I think that there [are] some fundamental things very wrong with the Texas political system which results in corruption and even things that are legal that most citizens would think corrupt.”


Corruption Investigations Tripled


The Reform Austin article pointed out that the FBI office in San Antonio reported that its corruption investigations doubled from 2012 to 2013 and tripled by 2014. 


The FBI’s increased corruption investigations can be traced back to Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who in 2009 vetoed $7 million designated for the state’s Public Integrity Unit, which handled public corruption investigations. 


In response to Perry’s efforts to legitimize political corruption, the Texas Legislature in 2015 dismantled the Public Integrity Unit in Austin under increased criticisms from reform activists that corruption investigations were being politicized by the District Attorney’s Office in Travis County. The new revised Public Integrity Unit was placed under the purview of the Texas Rangers and local prosecutors to investigate public corruption.


And, quite expectedly, this Republican corruption reform effort under Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration failed as well:


In a September 23, 2021 article in the Texas Observer titled “How Public Corruption Investigations Can Fail,” Lise Olsen pointed out that the Texas Rangers conducted 560 investigations of state and local officials between 2015 and 2020.  


Chris Callaway, a Texas Ranger between 2012 and 2018 who worked on many of the Public Integrity Unit investigations, told Olsen that most Rangers conducting these investigations do not have the “expertise” needed to conduct effective investigations. Callaway said there were only three or four full-time Rangers who conduct Public Integrity Unit investigations.


Despite the number of corruption investigations conducted by the Texas Rangers, very few resulted in meaningful prosecution. 


For example, as Lise Olsen pointed out, the Kaufman County District Attorney’s Office refused to prosecute Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton—an Abbott ally—after a Ranger investigation showed the corrupt (and criminally indicted on other charges) attorney general had accepted a $100,000 gift from a Texas businessman whose company was under investigation by Paxton’s office at the time for Medicare fraud.


That is the way political business is done in Texas.


Earlier this year, Texas Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro captured in a Twitter post how Republican-controlled corruption works in this state. The congressman pointed out that the Republican Texas Supreme Court refused to hear an “oil giant’s case.” However, after the company gave $250,000 to a PAC supporting the Republican justices, the court reheard the case and ruled in the company’s favor.


Corruption undermines the rule of law. This nation is rapidly approaching a point of no return where the rule of law will be replaced with authoritarian tyranny, which is the genesis of corruption.


Is this what Texans genuinely prefer?