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Sharen Wilson's Get Out of Jail Free Card
Yesterday the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson (Republican) will not face criminal charges after using her official office resources for political purposes. According to the Star-Telegram, Wilson emailed employees at the Tarrant County DA’s office to request their personal emails and later emailed their personal accounts with an invitation asking for political contributions ranging $100 to $1,000. You can see the emailed solicitation from Wilson here.
Using government email accounts to promote political fundraising is illegal
Under Texas state law, it is illegal for an elected official to use official property for campaign purposes according to chapter 39 of the Texas state penal code. Clearly, Sharen Wilson used her office’s official account to obtain personal email addresses for her employees and then sent them an event invitation requesting $100 to $1,000 for her campaign. The invitation did not include any notation indicating that the event was complimentary or that the employees could attend without giving. In fact, official campaign reports show that 28 staff members from the Tarrant DA’s office donated to Wilson’s campaign around the time of the fundraiser, likely in response to her invitation.
Apart from the apparent legal violation by Wilson, an elected official soliciting their government employees for campaign contributions is ethically questionable, to say the least. St. Mary’s University law professor Gerald S. Reamey told the Star-Telegram, “An elected official shouldn’t be soliciting employees who work for her for money. I think that’s as a matter of policy and ethics. I think it’s very clear that’s inappropriate.”
Kid gloves treatment for Republican DA Wilson after she sent a woman to prison for a minor voting violation
Why did Sharen Wilson get off the hook so easily? Texas Rangers investigated credible evidence that she used official resources to obtain personal emails and later used those emails to solicit money for her campaign. Any excuse that her actions were inadvertent or unintended don’t hold water. Sharen Wilson is the District Attorney for Tarrant County. It’s her job to know the law. Wilson got a pass because fellow Republicans in three counties cut her slack.
Compare Wilson’s “out of jail free card” to the heavy hand she used to smack down a woman prosecuted for a voting violation. Wilson made national news earlier this month after she prosecuted an immigrant woman who cast a ballot in the 2012 general election and the 2014 Republican primary runoff.
It was a voting violation for sure, and prosecution was warranted. However, it is the type of offense that typically results in a probated sentence, not a long jail term. In fact, prosecutors with the Texas Attorney General’s office recommended a plea bargain with a lesser penalty. But, Sharen Wilson showed no leniency, no flexibility, and no compassion. She forced a conviction that resulted in an 8 year prison term.
Let’s compare: Sharen Wilson coerced county employees to give money to her campaign, and 28 of them felt compelled to do so. Wilson was not prosecuted or punished in any way. A 37-year old mother of four cast improper votes and will spend up to 8 years behind bars.
Texas Republican prosecutors go easy on their own
Three different counties reviewed Sharen Wilson’s violations and did nothing. What do they have in common? Like Sharen Wilson, they are all Republican prosecutors in reliably Republican counties. The exact same dynamic was playing out for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. The Republican DA in Collin County refused for months to act on Paxton’s fraud and swindling crimes. Paxton was indicted only after local citizens and a grand jury decided that Paxton’s violations could not be ignored.