UPDATE: Governor Rick Perry has been indicted on two felony charges related to his veto of funding for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit. Updates can be found here.
ORIGINAL STORY (4/23/14): A Travis County grand jury is considering whether or not to indict Gov. Rick Perry over his veto of funding for the county's Public Integrity Unit.
Gov. Perry could be charged with several offenses, including bribery, coercion of a public servant, and abuse of power after vetoing more than $3 million in state money for the unit that investigates political corruption.
Perry's veto came as the result of an ultimatum given by Perry to Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. Last April, Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving. She pleaded guilty and served jail time, but refused to step down.
In June, Perry promised that if Lehmberg did not resign he would veto the funding – and sure enough he made good on his promise.
More details surrounding the veto surfaced yesterday, with the the Texas Tribune reporting Perry offered to restore funding for the Public Integrity Unit if Lehmberg resigned.
Ross Fisher, head of UT Law School’s Lawyering Clinic, says there is case law prohibiting the governor or legislature from defunding an office, but only if it’s constitutionally mandated.
“The Public Integrity Unit is not authorized or mandated by the Constitution,” Fisher says. “In fact, the funding that has historically gone to the Public Integrity Unit is something that the legislature has chosen to do. But, they’re under no statutory obligation to do.”
Mark Jones, chair of the Political Science Department at Rice University, says it will be hard to make the case that the veto threat was only about getting Lehmberg out of office.
“Now certainly politics is likely involved, but I think we can sort of flip this around and look at the counterfactual and say, absent Rosemary Lehmberg’s DWI would Rick Perry have vetoed funding for the Public Integrity Unit,” said Jones, “I think the answer is clearly no he wouldn’t have.”
Even if the grand jury produces no indictments, the damage may already have been done. Gov. Perry has been traveling across the country ahead of what's anticipated to be another presidential run in 2016. Accusations of abuse of power, like those against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, could hurt his campaign.