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

By Jay Root, AP
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

House officials: Probe of Texas lawmaker possible

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas House officials are criticizing one of their own members for billing both his campaign and taxpayers for the same travel expenses.

They say the reimbursements might prompt an internal investigation, criminal probe or both.

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

House General Investigating and Ethics Committee Chairman and fellow Republican Rep. Chuck Hopson said Tuesday he called the Travis County district attorney to see if a criminal investigation is under way and is considering whether to launch his own internal investigation.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — An anti-tax Texas lawmaker who helps oversee state spending by the Legislature says he never should have pocketed thousands of dollars in taxpayer money for expenses that his campaign had already funded.

Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland, faced with findings from an investigation by The Associated Press, acknowledged in an interview 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.

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 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, issued about 11 hours after he was interviewed by the AP.

Meanwhile, the Texas Democratic Party is calling for a criminal investigation into Driver’s travel reimbursements.

“Joe Driver has admitted that he broke the law by stealing from taxpayers,” said state Democratic Party lawyer Chad Dunn. “I will ask the Travis County DA’s Public Integrity Unit to open a formal investigation.”

The AP’s review of hundreds of pages of state and campaign travel records found that Driver double-billed for at least $17,431.55 in travel expenses, much of it at fancy out-of-state hotels, since 2005. Earlier House travel records have been destroyed, officials say. Driver also did not fill out campaign disclosure forms required for out of state travel expenses.

In his statement, Driver — who sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and rails against the evils of runaway government spending — called the lapses “completely unintentional.”

In his interview with the AP, Driver said he thought it was OK to bill two entities for the same expenses. He said he routinely pays hotels and airlines with donated political funds and then submits the same expenses to the state — taking the taxpayer money for himself.

Driver, former chairman of the House Law Enforcement committee, told the AP that state ethics authorities approved the arrangement years ago and told him to just keep the state money and not reimburse his campaign. But in his written statement Monday night, he admitted he “incorrectly interpreted their recommendation to me.”

Driver, who has represented in his Dallas-area district in the state House since 1993, said 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.”


Associated Press Writer Sarah Portlock contributed to this report.

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