Investigation adds to Dewhurst’s political woes

Cal Jillson, political science professor at SMU's Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, talks about how missing funds from Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's campaign coffers highlights the need for campaign donation oversight.

By Mike Ward

For Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a criminal investigation into how $1.3 million went missing from his campaign accounts, undetected over five years, perhaps couldn’t have come at a worse time.

As the presiding officer of the Texas Senate, which convenes Tuesday, Dewhurst faces a challenge to his decade-long leadership from ultraconservative Republicans, a split that also figured in his surprise defeat last summer in an expensive U.S. Senate primary race.

And thanks to the missing funds, the Houston multimillionaire has just over $7,200 left in his campaign account, which officeholders use during legislative sessions to supplement staff salaries and pay other bills. By law, he cannot raise any additional money until the session is over.

Breaking his silence on the investigation, Dewhurst said in an interview Friday that he was “shocked, stunned, mad as hell” when he first found out about the missing funds on Dec. 4. He said his staff verified details, then turned the matter over to Travis County prosecutors.

“We’re investigating where the usual safeguards failed,” Dewhurst said, declining to discuss details because of the ongoing criminal inquiry. “Quite frankly, I was hurt that someone who I had worked with and tried to help had done this and had not ever come to me … and said, ‘I have a problem.’”

In the clubby 31-member Senate, how more than $1.3 million went missing from the campaign fund of an astute businessman known for his meticulous attention to detail, without anyone knowing, is the subject of an ongoing, quiet debate....

Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas who follows campaign finance issues, said Dewhurst’s misfortune has highlighted a need to strengthen oversight of donations by campaign treasurers.

“Treasurers are supposed to be in place to manage the finances,” he said. “It’s a titular role in a lot of campaigns, … and it shouldn’t be. In Texas law, the campaign treasurer has a legal responsibility to oversee those accounts.”...