House leaders criticize Texas lawmaker over reimbursements, say conduct could prompt probe

By Jay Root, AP
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Texas lawmaker criticized for double-billing

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas House officials criticized one of their own members Tuesday for billing both his campaign and taxpayers for the same travel expenses, saying the reimbursements might prompt an internal investigation, criminal probe or both.

State Rep. Joe Driver acknowledged to The Associated Press on Monday that for years he has been pocketing thousands of dollars in taxpayer money for expenses that his campaign had already funded. The Republican is vowing to rectify any “inadvertent” billing mistakes he has made.

Driver, presented with findings from the AP, said that for years he has been submitting the same receipts — for luxury hotels, airline tickets, meals and fees — to both his campaign and to the Texas House of Representatives. He also has been collecting thousands of dollars in state mileage reimbursements for travel in vehicles for which his campaign has shelled out more than $100,000 since 2000.

GOP Rep. Chuck Hopson, chairman of the House General Investigating & Ethics Committee, said he has called the Travis County district attorney to see if a criminal investigation is under way while he contemplates his own internal probe of conduct “that doesn’t make the rest of legislators look good.”

Hopson said he has also discussed the issue with the office of House Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican from San Antonio.

Republican Rep. Charlie Geren, a key Straus ally and chairman of the House Administration Committee that oversees House travel, said Driver had made a “bad mistake” and said he would make sure that House officials and employees “cooperate with whoever wants to look into this.”

Rudy Magallanes, a spokesman for Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, said prosecutors were aware of the news reports on Driver and planned to discuss the matter to determine if more information needed to be gathered. Magallanes said the office had not received any formal complaints as of midday Tuesday.

Craig Murphy, a spokesman for Driver, said the north Texas lawmaker was going through records so he can rectify any mistakes.

“It was inadvertent and he is working diligently to fix it,” Murphy said.

In a written statement late Monday night, Driver said he had consulted House “ethics specialists” and determined that he had made errors in his campaign reports, but he promised to correct billing mistakes denied ever misusing state tax dollars.

“Not one tax dollar was misspent due to my mistake on this and any mistakes that were made are being corrected immediately,” Driver said in statement.

Texas Democrats are clamoring for an immediate criminal investigation.

Driver, who has represented his Dallas-area district in the state House since 1993, said in an interview Monday that he could not remember how long he has been getting state reimbursements for bills paid for by the campaign.

“I’ve been doing it for a while,” Driver said. “I don’t have a clue when I started. I don’t know. I haven’t worried about it, I haven’t thought about it because I thought I was doing what they told me to do.”

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