As House Speaker Dade Phelan faces criticism for his empowerment of Democrats in the legislature, his campaign is also benefiting from a Democrat official whom the Attorney General attempted to prosecute for campaign finance violations.

Campaign finance reports reveal Phelan’s campaign received $1,000 on November 9, 2023, from Zena Stephens, the Democrat sheriff of Jefferson County.

Making the contribution even more notable is that Stephens was at the center of a court decision that ultimately stripped the Attorney General of his power to prosecute election fraud.

In 2018 Attorney General Ken Paxton attempted to prosecute Stephens for campaign finance violations. Paxton initiated the prosecution after local prosecutors turned down the case. Among other violations, Stephens was accused of accepting cash contributions over $100, which is prohibited under the Election Code. Stephens appealed the indictment, arguing the AG lacked the constitutional authority to prosecute criminal cases.

In an 8-1 decision in December of 2021, the all-Republican Court of Criminal Appeals—Texas’ highest court on criminal matters—said that the state law granting the attorney general the power to unilaterally prosecute election cases was unconstitutional, as they argued the attorney general is not given the express authority to do so by the Texas Constitution.

During the most recent legislative session, legislation to return the power to the Attorney General’s office was never given a vote.

In the March primary, however, all three Republicans on the court that were up for reelection were defeated, with Paxton endorsing their opponents.

A campaign spokesman for David Covey’—Phelan’s opponent in the upcoming runoff election— told Texas Scorecard the donation is just the latest indication that Phelan is appealing to Democrats to try to save his seat:

Dade Phelan relied on the support of Democrats and liberal groups to keep his campaign alive and help him make the runoff. From turning out close to 3,000 Democrats in the Republican Primary, accepting $40,000 from a liberal group that celebrated ‘Transgender Visibility Day’ on Easter Sunday, and having the support of a donor that gave over $600,000 to the DNC, DSCC, and DCCC, Dade Phelan’s liberal appeal is obvious. This donation from a Democrat Sheriff is just another indication that Dade Phelan is more interested in taking care of his Democrat friends than representing the conservative values of Southeast Texas.

Phelan’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the donation.

Brandon Waltens

Brandon serves as the Senior Editor for Texas Scorecard. After managing successful campaigns for top conservative legislators and serving as a Chief of Staff in the Texas Capitol, Brandon moved outside the dome in order to shine a spotlight on conservative victories and establishment corruption in Austin. @bwaltens