Politics & Government

Abbott, Davis ramp up attacks in campaign for governor

The gubernatorial slugfest continued Tuesday, as Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott accused his Democratic opponent of a history of “lavish spending” with her campaign money.

Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis, currently in the midst of her “Expose Greg Abbott’s Cover Up” tour, has defended her campaign spending in the past and fired back that the state’s top lawyer abused his power and tried to hide problems in the Texas Enterprise Fund.

These attacks began shortly after reports showed that Davis, a state senator, has about $5.7 million in the bank compared with Abbott’s $30 million — and less than four weeks to go until the Nov. 4 election.

“If I’m Wendy Davis’ campaign, I take heart in that there are attacks and Abbott isn’t ignoring her anymore,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. “The fact that he’s going on the attack suggests his campaign thinks she has made some progress.

“It’s not that they think she’s going to win, but they darn sure don’t want her to sneak up on him.”

Abbott has long been considered the frontrunner to replace Republican Rick Perry in the Governor’s Mansion next year.

His campaign began sending out emails Tuesday morning stating that Davis was “spending lavishly on personal luxuries on her campaign’s dime.”

His staffers reviewed campaign finance reports and allege Davis uses campaign contributions for personal expenses ranging from vehicles to furniture.

“Range Rovers, designer furniture and luxury apartments are typical for a Hollywood celebrity, but they're also staples for Sen. Davis, who funds her lavish lifestyle at her donors’ expense,” according to a statement released by Amelia Chassé, Abbott’s deputy communications director. “Sen. Davis’ latest fundraising report shows that she spent more than she took in, which isn’t surprising given her history of mining campaign funds to pay for a luxury lifestyle.”

Davis’ campaign meanwhile sent out its own statement, alleging “Greg Abbott abused his power to orchestrate TEF cover-up.”

Davis has been stressing the fact that she believes Abbott dropped the ball in overseeing the Texas Enterprise Fund, particularly in light of a state audit that recently revealed that about $170 million was given to companies that never filled out applications seeking the funding.

“Greg Abbott’s role in the scandal at the Texas Enterprise Fund is eating away at all we’re working to do in this state, because insiders like my opponent are selling out and shortchanging hardworking Texans and their families,” she said.

Democratic excess?

Abbott alleges that Davis spent more than $130,000 from her campaign contributions to rent “luxury” apartments in Austin after being elected to the Texas Senate in 2008. His campaign also said she uses campaign dollars to pay for utilities and maid services in those apartments as well.

And he alleges that she used nearly $24,000 in campaign funds in December 2008 to furnish her apartment.

“Since being elected in 2008 @ WendyDavisTexas has spent over 130k in ‘Luxury’ Austin apartments. ‘Always looking out for Working Texans,’ ” tweeted Avdiel Huerta, an Abbott spokesman.

Abbott released a spreadsheet detailing “December 2008 Apartment Furniture Spending” that showed expenses ranging from $4,938 at Crate & Barrel for apartment furniture to $2,760 at Williams-Sonoma for cookware, dishware and housewares for her apartment.

The spreadsheet also included $2,421.99 at Macy’s for bedding at her apartment and $650.95 from Overstock.com for furniture and bedding for the apartment.

Abbott’s staff also noted that Davis has spent nearly $60,000 on car leases and more than $7,000 on auto insurance through her campaign. They also said she has spent more than $10,000 in campaign money for utilities, rent and vehicle payments since July 1.

“It seems unlikely that Sen. Davis’ donors expected their contributions to pay for expensive cars and furnishings, and it’s yet more evidence of how out-of-touch Sen. Davis is with Texas,” Chassé said.

GOP abuse of power?

Davis is continuing to hammer Abbott on problems with the Texas Enterprise Fund.

She has called for an independent investigation of Abbott’s role and said he should return more than $1 million in contributions he received from those who benefited from the fund.

“Greg Abbott looked the other way and accepted over a million dollars in campaign contributions from the very companies that benefited from the fund and that he was supposed to be watching,” Davis said.

“Worse, Greg Abbott abused the power of his office by keeping records secret in order to orchestrate a massive cover-up of the fact that taxpayer money was being funneled out the door to politically connected companies.”

Davis tweeted Tuesday that some congressional members are asking for a federal probe of “possible unethical and illegal actions” regarding the fund.

The goal of the fund is to help create jobs in Texas, but the audit showed that companies that never sought grant money received it from this fund. A handful of Democratic lawmakers want a federal investigation to determine whether that action violates state law.

“It’s time to put an end to the culture of corruption in our state that allows scandals like this to happen over and over again,” Davis said. “In this election, we can put an end to that corruption. We can elect a governor who puts the hardworking people of this state first.”

Davis’ campaign also fired back with allegations of her own about Abbott’s spending habits, noting that the attorney general reported expenditures on maid service and car rentals.

Big contributors

Among those giving big to Abbott were Grand Prairie home builder Marcus Hiles and his wife, Nancy ($325,000); Fort Worth businessman Robert Albritton and his wife, Mary ($250,000); Houston homemaker and political activist Kathaleen Wall ($200,000); and Fort Worth oilman and philanthropist Lee Bass ($100,000).

Abbott also snagged $100,000 from famed trial lawyer Tony Buzbee, who recently became the head of the legal team working to beat Gov. Rick Perry’s recent abuse-of-power indictment. And Don Huffines, who recently defeated Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, in the spring GOP primary, gave him $100,000 out of his campaign account.

Abbott also reported a $25,000 donation from Koch Industries PAC and numerous donations from payday lender interests, including $10,000 from Cash America International PAC and $5,000 from the Ace Cash Express Texas PAC.

Davis picked up $200,000 from Houston billionaire and philanthropist John Arnold, a former Enron employee and founder of Centaurus Advisors. She also got $100,000 from the Provost Umphrey Law Firm, led by trial lawyer Walter Umphrey, one of the attorneys who helped win a multibillion-dollar settlement from the tobacco industry on behalf of the state. Emily’s List, a national group dedicated to electing Democratic women to public office, gave Davis $250,000.

This report includes material from The Texas Tribune.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram