Even as Texas Rangers were investigating accusations last fall that she misused public funds, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes missed a deadline for a campaign finance report by one day and was fined $500.
But the Austin Democrat never paid the fine or presented any mitigating factors for her delinquent submission, prompting the Texas attorney general to file a lawsuit against her Wednesday in Travis County state District Court.
The civil matter brings additional legal trouble to Dukes, who last week was arraigned on charges that she used her legislative staff for personal reasons and collected pay in the 2014 session for days she didn’t go to the Capitol. Dukes, who received a mild scolding from Judge Brad Urrutia for showing up to court 2½ hours late, pleaded not guilty to 13 felony counts of tampering with public records. She faces up to 28 years in prison at an Oct. 16 trial and says she will not accept a plea offer.
The Texas Ethics Commission is demanding interest on top of the unpaid fine, plus attorney fees of $750 or more. Dukes declined comment Thursday, saying she hadn’t been served with the lawsuit.
Failing to timely submit finance reports with the state has previously been a problem for Dukes, a 12th term representative of District 46. The American-Statesman reported in June 2016 that her campaign had been dinged with four separate $500 fines, and that Dukes had been fined $500.
The campaign currently has an outstanding balance of $1,000, according to a database of unpaid fines kept on the commission’s website. The unpaid balance stems from two separate $500 fines for missing deadlines in July 2016 and July 2015.
Ian Steusloff, general counsel with the ethics commission, said Dukes last made a payment in May 2016 for $1,000.
More than 250 political candidates in the state have outstanding debts for late filings, with many of them dwarfing that of Dukes. A former Brewster County state district judge candidate has the highest debt, $30,500.
Political candidates were required to submit a campaign finance report eight days before the Nov. 7 election. But Dukes was late by a day, records show, and incurred the minimum $500 fine while avoiding a $100 fine for every additional day of delinquency. Dukes, even while being investigated by the Texas Rangers and the district attorney’s office, rolled to victory with 70 percent of the vote.
Steusloff said Dukes didn’t submit an affidavit requesting that her fine be forgiven.
“If the fine is not addressed after notices are sent, either by paying the fine or requesting the waiver, we refer to the attorney general’s office for a lawsuit,” he said.
A grand jury indicted Dukes in January after she withdrew from an agreement with former District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg that would have required Dukes to step down in exchange for dropping the investigation.
Dukes’ continued trouble comes at a time when some local Democrats are pushing for her resignation. Her absence at 68 percent of the meetings of the recent legislative session was the source of a contentious argument at a May 31 party gathering.
Daniel Segura-Kelly told the Statesman at the time that 16 of 22 precinct chairs want Dukes gone.
“We deserve better than what we’re getting from Rep. Dukes,” Segura-Kelly said Thursday. “Rep. Dukes has become a distraction from the real challenges that face families and working people in the district.”
Segura-Kelly is organizing a panel for 46th District candidates, to be held 2-5 p.m. Sunday at Austin Community College. Dukes, who said she’ll likely run for re-election in 2018, is invited to attend.