Did Koch Industries Bribe Cornyn As Texas AG?

An interesting Texas Monthly piece from way back in 2000 suggests that then Texas Attorney General John Cornyn went easy on the powerful Koch industries after they polluted Texas waters in return for their support for him during his 1998 campaign.

John Cornyn was a judge at the Texas Supreme Court from 1991 to 1997 and was elected Texas Attorney General in 1998. Prior to his stint at the Texas Supreme Court, Cornyn was a judge at the Texas 37th District Court.

According to the Texas Monthly piece, pipelines belonging to Wichita-based Koch Industries leaked oil products into the waters of Texas and several other states. The federal government went after Koch Industries for violations of the Clean Water Act and several states including Texas joined the lawsuit. Texas attorney General at that time was Dan Morales (Cornyn’s predecessor). AG Morales is famous for the major win he scored against the Tobacco industry that netted the Lone Star state a staggering $17.3 billion in fines from Big Tobacco.

It is against the backdrop of AG Morales’ win against Big Tobacco that Koch Industries backed John Cornyn’s candidacy for Texas AG–in essence to shield themselves from having to pay astronomical fines to the Lone Star state as Big Tobacco did. So you say, “OK @Emolclause you’re really grasping at straws here. Cut to the chase and explain how Koch Industries recruited Cornyn to avoid paying astronomical fines to the Lone Star state after polluting its waters.” Here it is in a nutshell.

As the Texas Monthly piece correctly points out, going after Big Tobacco, Big Oil etc in court usually involves very complex litigation that requires a battery of “cream of the crop” attorneys. Needless to say, such attorneys charge astronomical fees for their services–fees that most state elected officials(AGs) feel uncomfortable paying using taxpayer funds. What most states end up doing therefore (at least before AG Cornyn came along) is that they enter into agreements with these smart attorneys whereby the attorneys take on the complex litigation without any payment from the state in return for a share(percentage) of the fines they recoup from the offending company. In the case of Big Tobacco for example where Texas netted an astronomical $17.3 billion in fines, the attorneys in the case ended up getting paid a whopping $3.3 billion.

AG Morales attempted to duplicate his success against Big Tobacco in his fight against Koch Industries by using the same technique of a battery of smart attorneys not paid by the state. Koch Industries backed Cornyn’s campaign for Texas AG in 1998, donating $5000 to his campaign. Cornyn went on to win the election in 1998 and when he became AG, immediately began fighting the practice of using “outside” lawyers for complex litigation like the one the state was pursuing against Koch Industries. Cornyn wanted only state attorneys(from the AG’s office) to handle the complex litigation against Koch Industries and others–an obvious legal advantage to the big companies. He used the straw argument that the staggering $3.3 billion paid to attorneys in the Big Tobacco case should have ended up in the state’s coffers instead.

What ended up happening is that the high-powered attorneys AG Morales had lined up to go to trial against Koch Industries left and the Lone Star state was forced to accept a paltry $35 million settlement from Koch, a settlement that deeply angered environmentalists. Most experts agree that had Cornyn allowed Morales’ attorneys to take Koch to trial, they were looking at a possible $225 million or more in fines. Obviously some of the $225 million would have gone to pay the attorneys’ fees but the Lone Star state would still have ended up with more than the paltry $35 million “slap on the wrist” settlement Cornyn got. Therefore Koch essentially backed Cornyn as AG in order to save themselves from paying astronomical fines to the state for polluting its waters. Sad indeed!!

Cornyn when confronted about this “slap on the wrist” settlement against Koch industries reportedly answered that it was “pretty darned good for a Republican.” In other words he did not aggressively pursue Koch Industries as much as he should because they traditionally supported Republicans.

Even more troubling is the fact that Cornyn assailed his GOP primary opponent in the Texas AG race for engaging in the exact similar conduct he was now excusing–taking money(contributions) from a company the Texas AG’s office was pursuing in court. This means Cornyn knew what he was doing was unethical but did it anyway.

It also cannot be left unsaid that the Texas Monthly piece accused John Cornyn of “playing politics with the law at the expense of the public interest.”  This is especially instructive now that he is running for reelection in 2020. Hopefully his Dem challengers will dig into this excellent Texas Monthly piece to dig up other troubling aspects of John Cornyn’s political career

Bottom line, Texas has always been assumed to be a reliably “red state” by much of the national mainstream media and indeed by some establishment Democrats. Yours Truly challenged this notion back when nobody thought Beto O’Rourke had any chance against Ted Cruz and we saw what happened. The same needs to happen with John Cornyn, whose long record both in Texas politics and as U.S. Senator provides ample oppo-research fodder for his prospective Dem challenger. Yours Truly will certainly do his part to expose John Cornyn for the corrupt politician he has always been, beginning with this shady deal he did for Koch Industries against the best interests of the Lone Star state.

For those of you very happy with @Emolclause’s activism don’t shy away from the “tip jar” below on your way out.

You may reach the author via email at author@grassrootsdempolitics.com or author@emolumentsclause.com

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