Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott fighting feds with your tax dollars


Everything from suing the Environmental Protection Agency over coal plant emissions to women's health to Obamacare to EPA carbon dioxide rules, but none of it comes for free and now with more than a dozen cases pending, the meter is running.

As Texas attorney general, Greg Abbott is the state's top lawyer. He was in DC last month when Texas told the Supreme Court to overturn Obamacare and he was there a few months earlier fighting for Texas' new election maps in the redistricting fight.

Abbott's filed 24 lawsuits against the federal government since taking office in 2002. He even campaigned on it in 2010 in a TV ad, saying, "Washington politicians are trying to control our state and our economy, but we're fighting back."

He's fighting back with your dollars. Records from Abbott's own office show he's spent more than $1.5 million tax dollars suing the feds. Despite an army of 700 state paid lawyers, nearly half the money was paid to private law firms across the country.

"The truth is, it shouldn't cost a penny. If the federal government were following the law, we wouldn't be involved in any of these lawsuits," said Abbott.

He says some of the costs, especially for outside lawyers, are the result of defending lawsuits on redistricting. And that he's been forced to take suit to fight back against a federal government in his words "trampling" on the rights of Texans.

"The way I see it, the federal government has a fight with Texas," Abbott said.

Abbott's critics see it differently.

"Someone's made a decision; they have to draw a line in the sand or fight the EPA at every turn," said Charles Irvine, a Houston environmental attorney.

Irvine has at times fought Abbott in court. Democratic State Representative Jessica Ferrar fights in Austin.

"It's just a huge waste of government tax dollars fighting this fantasy battle with the federal government," said Rep. Ferrar.

Abbott denies any political connection, but the calendar may suggest otherwise.

"Looks and smells like a political decision," said Irvine.

Of the 24 suits Abbott filed since taking office, 20 of them were filed since 2010. Almost half of all suits, 11 of them, were filed during Abbott's 2010 campaign.

"The timing of it is easy to measure. The timing of it is the result of the current administration in Washington. It's that administration in Washington, DC that's unchecked by the Constitution, unbound by the law," Abbott said.

There is some good news here. Cases like this are not overly expensive to fight in court. For example, fighting the health care reform cost the state just $20,000. The governor's office estimates the Medicaid expansion alone will cost Texas billions.

We collaborated with the Texas Tribune on this investigation. They crunched the numbers on the Texas legal bills. You can find out more about those numbers at TexasTribune.org.

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