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Low Ethics
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 him.

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 comment.

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 brains.

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 organization [$75,000].

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 walk.

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. Citizens for Legitimate Government has the earlier version. Thoreau can be emailed at

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