DALLAS — Texas Gov. Rick Perry's veto of funding for the Travis County District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit faces an override threat from the legislature.
The veto came as the unit was investigating a $3 billion bond-funded cancer program that is said to have awarded grants to Perry's donors without proper review.
Public-interest group Texans for Public Justice filed a criminal complaint over the veto, saying Perry potentially committed three possible violations, including coercion of a public servant, abuse of official capacity and official oppression.
The House Appropriations Committee is holding a public hearing today on a resolution by Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, which asks, "That the legislature hereby approves the item of appropriation for the Public Integrity Unit . . . notwithstanding the objections of the governor."
If the legislature fails to override the veto, lawmakers are looking into whether the Legislative Budget Board could restore funding.
The elimination of state funds for the only unit in the state that investigates public corruption has become a major controversy in the wake of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg's conviction for driving while intoxicated.
Perry demanded that Lehmberg resign after her conviction and threatened to withhold state funds unless she did, according to reports in the Austin American-Statesman and the Texas Tribune.
Some Republican leaders have sought to move the public integrity unit to the state attorney general's office, claiming that Lehmberg's predecessor Ronnie Earle politicized the office.
Earle won a conviction of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on money laundering charges in connection with campaign finance in 2011. DeLay was sentenced to three-years in prison but has not entered while waiting appeals.
Earle also brought an indictment against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison for allegedly misusing phones and assaulting a staffer, but a jury returned a not-guilty verdict.
Earle even prosecuted himself for missing a campaign finance report deadline and paid a $212 fine.
Under Lehmberg, the public integrity unit has gone virtually dormant, filing no major cases. Lehmberg agreed to investigate the funding of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas after a public outcry about grants going to Perry donors. The funds come from tax-supported bonds approved by state voters.
The public integrity unit has 35 employees and handles cases related to state government, such as theft of state property and corruption by state officials, because the offenses occur in this county. It also prosecutes cases involving insurance fraud and tax fraud.
Lehmberg is working with Travis County Commissioners to keep the unit operating despite the veto.
"The Governor's veto removed the funding for the Public Integrity Unit, but the responsibility for these cases remains with the Travis County District Attorney's Office," Lehmberg said in a prepared statement.