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Lina Hidalgo receives $500 ethics fine after endorsing primary candidate at Harris County presser

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo violated state law when she endorsed a candidate challenging District Attorney Kim Ogg during a press conference that used public funds, the Texas Ethics Commission said this week.

Hidalgo endorsed Sean Teare, Ogg’s opponent in the Democratic primary in March, at a November press conference held at the Harris County Administration building. Hidalgo repeatedly criticized Ogg, a fellow Democrat with whom she’s often feuded.

“I’m ready to take her on March 5, and I’m so excited to know that she’s got such a fantastic opponent,” Hidalgo said at the press conference.

Ogg’s office successfully sought a criminal indictment against three of Hidalgo’s former aides, accusing them of steering a county contract to a political consulting firm headed by a Democratic strategist. Their cases have not yet gone to trial.

Hidalgo praised Teare during the press conference, calling him “well respected” and “very experienced.”

Those remarks drew a complaint filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, the state’s campaign finance watchdog. The complaint accused Hidalgo of using county funds and resources to stump for a political candidate in violation of state law.

Teare went on to defeat Ogg and will face Republican Dan Simons in November.

Hidalgo acknowledged she used public resources and agreed to pay a $500 fine, according to a resolution issued Tuesday. Hidalgo said Wednesday that the commission “asked for a $500 penalty after recognizing the situation was a minimal issue.”

“I am confident that everything I did and said was appropriate, but rather than spending many thousands of dollars and precious time, we agreed to a minimal settlement so that I can focus my energy on the needs of Harris County,” Hidalgo wrote on the social media site X.

Hidalgo and Ogg have publicly sparred since Hidalgo first took office in 2019, most prominently in the investigation into Hidalgo’s former staffers. Hidalgo has repeatedly defended the staffers and blasted the probe as politically motivated. The investigation was one factor that motivated the Harris County Democratic Party to formally admonish Ogg.

Ogg has defended her loyalty to Democrats. But earlier this year, she placed the future of the investigation involving Hidalgo’s former aides in the hands of the Texas Attorney General’s Office – led by Ken Paxton, a Republican – in a move intended to keep the case alive after she leaves office. Teare has said he would recuse the district attorney’s office from the case.

Texas Republicans have often worked to undermine various efforts by Harris County officials since Hidalgo took office and the county became more strongly Democratic – targeting the county’s moves to improve ballot access during the 2020 elections and probing its public safety spending.

Paxton’s office sued the county earlier this year to kill its guaranteed income program, a federally funded initiative to give monthly financial assistance to some of the county’s poorest families. The Texas Supreme Court recently signaled it will likely strike down the program.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.