January 24, 2003
By Jackson Thoreau
New U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas gave $900 in campaign
funds to his 19-year-old nephew more than two weeks after
the Nov. 5 election, listing the expense as "consulting" in
his latest Federal Election Commission campaign report.
Cornyn, a Republican and former Texas attorney general, campaigned
on his "high ethics" and blasted his Democratic opponent,
Ron Kirk, for questionable ethics several times. Cornyn also
had George W. Bush, a close friend who campaigned on restoring
"honor" to the White House, return to Texas to campaign for
Giving campaign funds to family members is legal in Texas
and by no means unusual, said Andrew Wheat, research director
of Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based organization
that monitors campaign finances.
"Politicians put a premium on loyalty, which can be bred
within families," Wheat said. "This kind of thing can look
questionable and raise questions about what the relative actually
did or what his qualifications were. But when it is just $900,
few people would think it worth investigating."
But what makes this case smell more than usual is that candidates
usually list the relative openly as receiving a salary in
reports filed well before the election. That gives their opponents
and media time to decide whether to make it a campaign issue
before the election. Many times opponents have family members
on the payroll themselves and won't pursue the matter. Often
the media has bigger fish to fry than a politician giving
a few hundred dollars in campaign funds to a relative.
But Cornyn's expense was sneaked in the post-election report,
listing 19-year-old Gabriel B. Cornyn of San Antonio as a
consultant in receiving the money on Nov. 22. Voters on Nov.
5 did not know about that family tie by Cornyn, as the donation
has escaped notice by all media – local, state, and national.
Gabriel Cornyn could not be located as doing political consulting
work for any other candidate, and his name doesn’t come up
in popular search engines.
Neither Cornyn nor his campaign responded to requests for
During the campaign, Kirk criticized Cornyn for taking $193,000
in campaign donations from Enron executives before the company
went bankrupt and for making a decision that protected some
of Enron's financial secrets from ratepayers. Cornyn responded
by questioning Kirk’s ethics as a former lobbyist for tobacco
giant Philip Morris.
As attorney general, Cornyn helped start the Republican Attorneys
General Association [RAGA]. In a 2000 RAGA fundraising appeal,
Cornyn wrote that the group was started to stop those with
"a wish list for future mass state lawsuits [targeting] car
rental companies, pharmaceutical firms, makers of lead paint,
and gun manufacturers," according to Texans for Public Justice.
Among the beneficiaries of that association was Dallas businessman
Harold Simmons, one of Cornyn's top campaign contributors
and owner of NL Industries, a leading producer of lead paint.
Simmons hired Gale Norton before she become U.S. Interior
Secretary to lobby Cornyn and other attorney generals not
to follow Rhode Island's example by suing lead paint makers
for the cost of cleaning up the paint that can poison children’s
RAGA refused to reveal its contributors. The association
obtains funding through the Republican National State Elections
Committee [RNSEC], according to Texans for Public Justice.
In the 2000 election campaign, RNSEC received money from numerous
donors that sought to curb lawsuits, including tobacco companies
[$665,765], Simmons' holding companies [$350,000], the National
Rifle Association [$150,000], and Aetna, a health maintenance
As Texas attorney general, Cornyn did not pursue legal action
against lead paint makers and gun manufacturers. He also allowed
Aetna to settle a patient-protection lawsuit for free. Cornyn's
predecessor, Democrat Dan Morales, filed a 1998 lawsuit charging
Aetna with millions of dollars in violations of state law
by allegedly offering incentives to doctors to withhold medical
care. Cornyn’s settlement merely required Aetna to start obeying
the law and did not require the HMO to admit wrongdoing, pay
a fine, or cover the state's legal costs.
Another questionable ruling by Texas' new senator was declaring
unconstitutional a state law that forbid Texas from importing
hazardous waste from abroad. The decision was applauded by
waste companies, from which Cornyn took more than $100,000,
according to Texans for Public Justice.
Even with such questionable decisions, Cornyn is not a far-right
conservative by Texas standards. He has distanced himself
from the Republican Party of Texas' platform, which calls
for abolishing the federal Department of Education, withdrawing
from the United Nations, and banning abortion.
Still, the sneaky payment to Cornyn's nephew, his prior favorable
decisions for campaign contributors, and hypocritical campaigning
in 2002 show Cornyn to be another Republican politician who
talks the talk when it comes to ethics but doesn't walk the
Jackson Thoreau is co-author of We Will Not Get Over
It: Restoring a Legitimate White House. The updated, 120,000-word
electronic book can be downloaded on his website.
for Legitimate Government has the earlier version. Thoreau
can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.