Is Jane Nelson The “Biggest Spender”?

A senior state lawmaker cried foul after a news organization – the Texas Monitor – turned a spotlight on her spending habits, alleging that the revelations are untrue. Texas Scorecard’s investigations reveal what is, as Nelson says, “fake news,” and what is fact.

In late July, Empower Texans’ Facebook page shared an article by the Texas Monitor, an “independent, non-profit, digital-journalism outlet reporting on public integrity in state and local government,” on Facebook. The article, which reported on State Sen. Jane Nelson (R–Flower Mound) and her campaign’s spending habits as part of their “Biggest Spenders” series, can still be viewed on the organization’s website.

Founded by veteran journalist Trent Siebert, who previously served as the editor of Texas Watchdog, the Texas Monitor is a generally reputable and trusted publication which, though relatively new to the scene, has contributed valuable information and reporting to Texans. Although none of their previous articles, at least to Empower Texans’ knowledge, contained any factual errors or made dishonest characterizations, Nelson accused the Monitor of both.

In an email to Texas Scorecard, Nelson objected to the claims made by the Texas Monitor.

Let me start by pointing out that [Texas Monitor]is not a legitimate news outlet.  The first sentence alone has four errors and is just not true.  I don’t think I have ever stepped foot in the Austonian, let alone lived there. I have never rented on Congress Avenue … or the 40th floor of any building.  The ‘view’ they described with an accompanying photo is made up just like the rest of the article, which is riddled with factual errors and innuendos. Miami super bowl tickets? Never happened. Simply put, this is fake news on Senate spending totals going back to 2007 before two thirds of the current Senate had even been elected.

In further correspondence, our editorial team assured Nelson we would investigate the matter ourselves and communicate our findings with our readers. The Flower Mound lawmaker gave her permission for us to post her email.

In the course of determining the veracity of the article, Texas Scorecard reached out to individuals both at the Monitor and Nelson’s campaign office. What did we find?

Neither are entirely correct.

Nelson’s biggest claim, that the article misrepresented her residence, was true—at least at the time she made it.

In the originally posted article, the Monitor claimed “Sen. Jane Nelson has access to a magnificent view of Austin from her 40th-floor condo at the Austonian on Congress Avenue. Too bad she only gets to enjoy it about five months out of every two years while the Texas Legislature is in session and during trips to the capital city for other legislative business.”

Such a claim isn’t accurate, and the Monitor quickly corrected the issue on their website as soon as they were informed. So why did the error occur in the first place?

It appears to be more of a careless mistake rather than an intentional lie. Nelson does not rent a 40th floor condo at the Austonian on Congress, she rents from a landlord whose office is located there. And far more interesting than what she pays or where she rents, is who she rents from.

Nelson doesn’t pay rent for her Austin residence to just anyone, she pays it to Mindy Ellmer—a top lobbyist and longtime romantic partner of State Rep. Charlie Geren (R–Fort Worth). The two recently married in a private ceremony shortly after the 85th Texas Legislature adjourned sine die.

And the rent isn’t cheap, Nelson pays $5,000 a month—more than a number of Ellmer’s own clients pay her to lobby the Texas Legislature. (That would have been far more interesting to report than a room in the Austonian, and perhaps something that Texans should look into further.)

Another allegation Nelson disputes is the claim she purchased tickets to the 2010 Super Bowl in Miami for a constituent, saying flatly that it “never happened.”

After reviewing Nelson’s campaign finance records she’s also correct on this point. However, Nelson did purchase Super Bowl tickets for a constituent in 2010, but it was for the 2011 Super Bowl held at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. So Nelson’s campaign funds did buy Super Bowl tickets in 2010, but not for the game played in Miami..

But other than those issues, the Texas Monitor’s report holds water.

Nelson has indeed spent more campaign funds than the vast majority of her colleagues for “lifestyle expenses” including trips to Maui, Kauai, Panama, Shanghai, Palm Springs, Coral Gables, Orlando, New Orleans, and Las Vegas. Campaign finance reports she also spent campaign dollars on on cars, computers, and Capitol staffer gifts, as the Monitor’s report alleges.

That said, Texans shouldn’t storm Nelson’s office and assail her with tar and feathers because she’s spent private donor money on lavish luxuries.

Since her election to the Texas Senate in 1992, Nelson has been one of the more conservative members of the Texas Legislature.  And the way she spends her campaign cash (and what she spends it on) is more her donors’ concern than that of taxpayers. After all, this is private money voluntarily contributed to her campaign she’s spending, not public tax dollars.

Nelson has been one of the most fiscally conservative lawmakers in the Legislature when it comes to taxpayer money.

As for the Texas Monitor, they said they regretted the error, noting that they strive for accuracy and to earn citizens’ trust in their reporting.

“We try our best to be as accurate as possible in our reporting,” said the publication’s editor, Trent Seibert. “We regret the errors we made and have corrected them, but this could have been avoided if Sen. Nelson had responded to our inquiries before the article was published.”

“In my journalistic experience, every story is improved when the subject makes themselves available,” he added.

Texans can view all of Nelson’s campaign expenditures and campaign finance reports, and those of all of their state lawmakers, in full online through the Texas Ethics Commission and Transparency Texas.

Austin Goss contributed to this report.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cary Cheshire leads the Capitol Bureau for Empower Texans & Texas Scorecard. A 6th Generation Texan, Cary attended Texas A&M University was active in a number of conservative causes including Ted Cruz's Senate campaign. He has also worked on campaigns to elect conservatives to both Congress and the Texas Legislature. Cary enjoys college football, genealogy research, and the occasional craft beer.

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