There’s been plenty of grandstanding since last month’s landmark Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage—but none grander than that of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who called the decision “lawless” and encouraged officials to defy it.
It seems, though, that Paxton is living in a glass house of hypocrisy. Having already admitted to violating state securities laws, the Tea Party darling now finds himself under investigation for felony securities fraud. Lawless, indeed.
Paxton’s first offense was relatively minor. In 2014, he was fined $1,000 by the Texas State Securities Board for referring clients to the finance firm Mowery Capital Management, taking commissions, and not registering as a “solicitor.” But the board declined to press charges, and the investigation followed a complaint filed by a liberal watchdog group.
The new investigations, however, are far more serious—and come with a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Later this month, Paxton will be in front of a grand jury, facing indictment on two separate fraud charges. The first stems from his steering of investors to an energy firm called Servergy, in which he owns at least 10,000 shares, and which is accused of lying to investors. The subject of the second investigation has not yet been disclosed, but is said to be related to Paxton’s work with Mowery Capital, also under investigation for fraud.
In the Servergy matter, special prosecutor Kent Schaffer has said he will push for first-degree felony security fraud charges. The pattern is similar to Paxton’s other offenses—soliciting investment clients—but the details have not yet been revealed.
Servergy is under investigation for falsely claiming to have sold its data servers to name-brand companies like Amazon, which it had not actually done. It is not known whether Paxton knew of this fraud.
Adding a distinctively Texas flavor to the scandal, The Texas Rangers—the actual ones, who do actually still exist, and who actually wear the white cowboy hats—are leading the investigation. In the words of one retired judge, “They’re ‘by the book’ guys… They’re like Dragnet. Joe Friday.”
Of the leader of the investigation, Major Dewayne Dockery, the same judge said, “You might as well be talking about the Lone Ranger from back during legendary times.”
The pending charges come as Paxton’s star has been on the rise in the Tea Party.
Only six months ago, Paxton left Texas’s legislature to become attorney general, succeeding Greg Abbott, now the governor. He has made the most of his platform, issuing blistering, Scalia-like “opinions” on the recent spate of Supreme Court opinions. He has said that “to rein in an out-of-control EPA is a top priority for my administration.” He has strongly backed Texas’s controversial new abortion law, which resulted in the closure of half the licensed clinics in the state.
And, of course, he has weighed in on the issue of same-sex marriage. A sampling:
“Today’s ruling by five Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court marks a radical departure from countless generations of societal law and tradition. The impact of this opinion on our society and the familial fabric of our nation will be profound. Far from a victory for anyone, this is instead a dilution of marriage as a societal institution… But no court, no law, no rule, and no words will change the simple truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.”
(Someone better alert Abraham, Moses, and King David—all polygamists—to that fact.)
Paxton continued, opining that “the debate over the issue of marriage has increasingly devolved into personal and economic aggression against people of faith who have sought to live their lives consistent with their sincerely-held religious beliefs about marriage,” such as businesses which post “No Gays Allowed” signs on their doors.
Of course, a high-profile fraud investigation of a high-profile politician has naturally led to accusations of political motivations.
But while that may have been true of his first brush with securities law, it’s hard to square with the new charges, which involve amounts in excess of $100,000, and involve the special investigators held in highest (indeed, legendary) regard in the Lone Star State.
The irony, of course, is rich.
This is the same attorney general who encouraged county clerks to defy the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the constitution, saying that “Texas must speak with one voice against this lawlessness.”
At least one clerk has taken Paxton up on his offer, and it’s likely that the Texas legislature will consider laws like North Carolina’s, which explicitly permit government employees and contractors to defy laws for religious reasons.
But now Company B of the Texas Rangers is investigating Paxton for his alleged lawlessness, which stems from a far more prosaic set of sins: greed, fraud, and the abuse of power.
And, of course, hypocrisy.