by Jean Forrest
Jefferson County (Beaumont) Sheriff Zena Harrison, former Sheriff candidate Ray Beck, and former Sheriff candidate Joe Stevenson were indicted by a Chambers County Grand Jury today and arrested for campaign finance violations.
The Chambers County Grand Jury unsealed indictments against the three that resulted from a related federal investigation. Federal officials contacted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton who worked with the Texas Rangers to investigate the case and pursue the criminal charges.
Sheriff Stephens, 52, was charged with a state jail felony charge of tampering with a government record and two Class A misdemeanor charges of accepting cash contributions exceeding $100 according to the release. Her bond was set at $5,000.
Beck, 67, a retired Beaumont Police officer, was charged with two Class A misdemeanors for accepting a cash contribution exceeding $100 and failure to return a political contribution according to the release.
Stevenson, 59, the Chief Deputy at the Jefferson County Precinct One Constables’ office, has also been charged with a Class A misdemeanor for accepting a cash contribution exceeding $100 the release said.
Both Beck and Stevenson’s bonds are each set at $2,500.
A high-level officer in the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office who brought this case to the attention of journalist recently said, on the condition of anonymity, “The Harrison case is important. All law enforcement officers should take heed that they are not above the law and are subject to indictment and arrest.”
Meanwhile in Madison County Texas current District Attorney Brian Risinger has sent the Texas Ethics Commission hand written letters requesting a waiver for failing to file a financial statement with the Texas Ethics Commission. They sent him a $500 fine for failure to submit that statement. Now if you do not disclose all your sources of income and campaign finance to them they will fine you and sue you through the Texas Attorney General. If you disclose false information or withhold it they will criminally prosecute you.
Look, if you feel this is too much for you or its the Government being too obtrusive. Simply do not go into politics. One prevention of restricting corrupt politics is the mandatory reporting of personal and campaign finances by elected officials.
It is humorous to read a handwritten letter from an elected official making excuses for not filing the mandatory report and then whining about the fine. Well we here at Texas Public Corruption do not wish to come across as telling Brian Risinger what to do, nor giving any legal advice. However, it is usually best to type your letters before submitting them. We “cringed” at the thought of this man possibly handwriting legal pleadings or legal documents for his clients.
Of further interest….If someone is arrested for a crime and complains or whines to the DA in Madison County claiming that they did not know what they were accused of was actually illegal and asks for the fine or punishment not to be implemented….do you suppose anyone listens or has any mercy upon them? Especially if they submit a handwritten note.
The previous District Attorney of Leon County Whitney Smith (who would never prosecute or seek an indictment for murder in that county) never ever filed his reports on time. Every election the man was fined $500 and a few times sent to the Attorney General for collections. Often his fines ended up being in excess of $1500 for not paying them nor filling the mandatory reports. He never cut anyone on probation any slack for being late with they’re probation fees I bet.
For two years, it was unclear where one Texas lawmaker was getting his money and how he was spending it. That’s because state Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, had failed to file multiple mandatory campaign and personal financial reports, racking up more than $50,000 in fines.
On Monday, Reynolds broke that streak, filing his first two campaign finance reports since February 2016.
Still, the penalties imposed by the Texas Ethics Commission have been growing. And despite referrals to the Texas Attorney General and several court rulings ordering payment, Reynolds still hasn’t paid up. Nearly two years and nine deadlines passed with no new filings, creating a situation that highlights the long-standing question of how much enforcement power the state has over lawmakers’ political dealings.
“The ethics commission is dependent on the AG and other officials to prosecute civilly or criminally in the courts,” said Fred Lewis, an Austin attorney with expertise in campaign finance law. “So the question is what other additional steps can they take?”
Reynolds did not return multiple requests for comment prior to this story. But soon after the story published early Tuesday morning, he texted a Texas Tribune reporter to say he had filed two reports on Monday. One was a report due Monday, 30 days before the March primary election. The other was a regular January report, which came in 20 days after the deadline. Neither report has been posted on the Texas Ethics Commission website, making it unclear how much information is provided.
Prior to then, he had not filed a campaign finance report since February 2016, resulting in $52,000 in fines, according to the Texas Ethics Commission, the regulatory agency in charge of political activities of state lawmakers and candidates. Reynolds still hasn’t filed an annually-mandated report outlining his personal finances since 2015, tacking on another $1,500 penalty.
A Texas Ethics Commission representative confirmed that the reports due last month and Monday were both filed in the afternoon, though online records did yet not reflect the filings.
In addition to direct campaign contributions, campaign finance laws also apply to third-party organizations and nonprofit organizations that seek to influence elections through independent expenditures or issue advocacy.
Title 15 of the Texas Election Code
A candidate for statewide office, the state legislature, State Board of Education, or district attorney must file campaign finance reports with the Texas Ethics Commission. The candidate must file an Appointment of a Campaign Treasurer by a Candidate Form (Form CTA) with the Texas Ethics Commission when he or she becomes a candidate even if he or she does not intend to accept campaign contributions or make campaign expenditures.
After a candidate has filed a form appointing a campaign treasurer, the candidate is responsible for filing periodic reports of contributions and expenditures. Filing reports is the responsibility of the candidate, not the campaign treasurer. A candidate may not accept a campaign contribution or make a campaign expenditure unless he or she has a campaign treasurer appointment on file with the Texas Ethics Commission.
A report must disclose all political contributions accepted and expenditures made during the reporting period.
- If a contributor contributes $50 or less during the reporting period, contributions from that contributor may be disclosed as part of a lump sum. For other contributions, the candidate must disclose the name and address of the contributor, the date of the contribution, and, for in-kind contributions, the nature and value of the contribution.
- A candidate must report any campaign expenditure (regardless of whether it is made from political contributions or from personal funds) and any political expenditure (campaign or officeholder) from political contributions (regardless of whether the expenditure is a political expenditure).
The candidate must file the following reports with the Texas Ethics Commission electronically unless the filer is entitled to claim the exemption from electronic filing.
- Report After Appointment of a Campaign Treasurer: The candidate must file a report after filing a campaign treasurer appointment. This report of contributions and expenditures is due no later than 15 days after the campaign treasurer appointment was filed. This report is required even if there is no activity to report.
- Personal Financial Statement: A candidate must file a financial statement within 40 days after the regular deadline for filing an application for a place on the ballot in the March primary election.
- Semiannual Reports: Every candidate and every officeholder is required to file reports of contributions and expenditures by January 15 and July 15 of each year. The candidate must file semiannual reports even if there is no activity to report for the period covered.
- Final Report: If a filer expects to accept no further political contributions and to make no further political expenditures and if the filer expects to take no further action to get elected to a public office, the filer may file a final report. Filing a final report terminates a filer’s campaign treasurer appointment and relieves the filer from any additional filing obligations as a candidate.
It bears noting that candidates for a judicial position on any court in the State of Texas are required to adhere to even more detailed and stringent election finance regulations. Some court candidates are required to file campaign finance reports with both a local county as well as the Texas Ethics Commission. More problematic is the fact that judicial candidates are required to maintain campaign contribution limits and only raise money within a specified time period prior to the election. Judicial candidates must take extra precautions to know and understand the Texas campaign finance regulations.