Paxton Uses State Protection for Frequent North Texas Trips

For the past year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has used taxpayer-funded security teams and drivers to travel at least twice and as many as four times a month to North Texas where he has a home and businesses, according to records obtained by The Texas Tribune.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at a press conference in Austin on Jan. 13, 2016 to announce a new unit within the Texas Attorney General’s Office dedicated to combating human trafficking.

Since he took office in 2015, nearly half of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s total security costs have gone to dozens of trips to Collin County, where he has a home and businesses, according to records obtained by The Texas Tribune.

Paxton has used taxpayer-funded security officers and drivers to travel at least twice a month and often as many as four times a month to North Texas for the past year. The attorney general has a house, law firm and title company in McKinney, as well as financial interests in businesses located in Allen, Plano and Frisco, according to the annual disclosure statement all officeholders must file with the state. Members of the congregation at Prestonwood Baptist, the North Texas megachurch Paxton attends, have told the Tribune they've seen Paxton and his wife being picked up at the church's main entrance by black sedans, SUVs and men in suits who appeared to be a security detail.

Paxton, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott are all entitled to drivers and officers provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety through its executive protection bureau, according to the agency. But the extent to which officeholders have made use of those security details has varied widely.

The latest records available from DPS show that from January 2015 to February 2016, travel, lodging and meals for Paxton's security detail cost taxpayers $78,000. Nearly half of that — about $35,000, which includes $16,000 for lodging alone — was spent on the DPS team's travel to cities in Collin County. Those totals do not include overtime pay for the officers traveling with Paxton.

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Security costs for Abbott, who as governor often travels out of state to promote Texas interests, are more than five times those of the attorney general. Abbott's expenses also include several international trips to Israel, Mexico, France, England, Cuba and Italy in the last year. 

Patrick spent slightly more than Paxton, about $81,000, but that included an international trip to Israel and more travel around the state. Since he's been in office, Patrick's made a trip with his security detail to his hometown of Houston about once a month. 

The records do not list the trips by date, only by month and year, nor do they include how many DPS officers were assigned to an elected official during a trip.

Since last summer, Paxton has been facing criminal proceedings against him in Fort Worth, near Collin County, but he has only made one court appearance in the case. He is accused of soliciting investors for a technology firm without disclosing the company was compensating him. Yet to stand trial, he pleaded not guilty to the three felony charges he faces in August. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed its own civil charges against Paxton in April.

Paxton spokesman Marc Rylander declined to answer specific questions about the reasons for the repeated travel to North Texas and referred the matter to DPS.

“We are grateful for the quiet professionals who dedicate their lives in service to our statewide officials," he said. "We are not allowed to comment on security details.”

For decades, most statewide officeholders including the attorney general were required to live in Austin. After voters repealed the state capital residency requirement in the Texas Constitution in November, Paxton's office said he had no plans to move back to McKinney.

“The attorney general has no plans to move,” then-spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer said at the time, adding that Paxton considered Travis County his "home county."

Ryan Murphy contributed to this story.