AUSTIN, Texas (CN) - Gov. Rick Perry cannot withhold public funds until he can swap a drunk-driving Democratic prosecutor for the Republican of his choice, a watchdog group said.
Rosemay Lehmberg, the sitting district attorney for Travis County, drew the Texas governor's ire after she was caught driving while intoxicated in April 2013.
Though Texans for Public Justice said Lehmberg's fate should be left to the legal process alone, Gov. Perry demanded her immediate resignation after she pleaded guilty to the charges.
In a complaint Friday with Lehmberg and Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, said Perry overstepped his authority by "sticking his nose in Travis County's business."
"Governor Rick Perry has potentially committed one or more criminal offenses related to his recent threat to use his official powers to provide or withhold money in a manner intended to allow him to gain the benefit of appointing a new Travis County District Attorney," the complaint states. "I believe these actions, as reported, violate one or more provisions of the Texas Penal Code, Title 8, Offenses Against Public Administration."
Perry followed through on the threats hours later, issuing a line-item veto of Senate Bill 1 that stripped the Public Integrity Unit in Lehmberg's office of more than $7 million.
"Despite the otherwise good work the Public Integrity Unit's employees, I cannot in good conscience support continued state funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public's confidence," Perry said in a statement Friday. "This unit is in no other way held accountable to state taxpayers, except through the state budgetary process. I therefore object to and disapprove of this appropriation."
The watchdog meanwhile called this maneuver a pretext for Perry to get two things he cannot otherwise achieve through "legal" and "democratic" means.
"First, to remove an elected Democrat and replace her with an appointed Republican DA," the group says. "Second, to wipe out the state's public corruption watchdog, which is currently investigating corruption in at least one of the governor's signature corporate subsidy programs."
Lehmberg has refused to quit since her plea and said never planned to seek re-election to a third term.
"It is my hope to complete my term in office to complete the work we (my dedicated professional staff and I) started four years ago," Lehmberg said in a statement on her website. "I am proud of the work we have done from this office over the last 37 years and I hope to have the opportunity to continue that service. I offer my deepest regret and most sincere apology and seek forgiveness from the people of Travis County."