State Law: Separation of Campaign and State

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According to Facebook photos, Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks’ campaign appears to be using county vehicles for campaign purposes.

The photos show Brooks’ Executive Assistant, Leon Polk, driving and posing with a county vehicle with campaign signs attached. We know that one was used in the 2018 MLK Day Parade in Downtown Fort Worth. The other, based on the date and location of the photo, was presumably used in the 2016 Juneteenth celebration. All elected officials should know that anything publicly funded cannot be used for campaigning. Elected officials must separate campaign and state–public resources cannot be used for campaign purposes.

Whether it is Representative Capriglione using official House of Representative Envelopes for campaign flyers, or Commissioner Roy Brooks’ campaign signs on a county vehicle, it is a violation of Election Code 255.033. A violation of that law is Class A misdemeanor, punishable with 1 year in jail or up to a $4,000 fine.

While these may seem like minor breaches of the code, they can often indicate a much larger ethical issue.

Incumbent candidates often walk a very fine line between constituent outreach and electioneering. The office itself carries a lot of weight with voters. Candidates with questionable ethics can easily use the resources and influence of their office to gain votes.

This is why Direct Action Texas (DAT) is determined to shine a light on elected officials when they cross the line. When someone stuck a Commissioner Roy Brooks campaign sign on a vehicle paid for with public funds, he clearly crossed that line.

The photos were publicly available, obtained from the Facebook pages of county employee Leon Polk and the photographer, Rachel Delira. The photos were also on the Facebook page of Commissioner Brooks himself, but he has since removed them. All photos show the vehicles in clear view of the public. The violation was in full view, in blatant disregard of the law.

Not only has DAT called attention to the violation, we have also sent a sworn complaint to the Texas Ethics Commission as well as a letter to the Tarrant County District Attorney. It is crucial that we all hold our elected officials accountable. We can’t just ignore cronyism and follow “The Fort Worth Way.”

We are seeing this same behavior in the school districts with a tactic known as the “Culture of Voting.” Superintendents, principals, and school board members are using public funds to not just encourage voting, but to illegally electioneer. They are utilizing school email, facebook, and twitter accounts to direct teachers and administrators to vote for particular candidates. Schools are even holding meetings with teachers and staff on school grounds to influence voting. Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an official opinion declaring these actions unconstitutional. Paxton has also sent cease and desist letters to three school districts to put an end to their unlawful electioneering, more may follow.

These illegal uses of public funds must end. Taxpayers dollars should never be used to advocate for candidates. We are better than that in Tarrant County. We must demand a higher standard from our government.

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