PEGGY FIKAC, San Antonio Express-News
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) â€” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott likes to brag about fighting the Obama administration, memorably describing his workday this way: "I go into the office, I sue the federal government and then I go home."
He doesn't talk much about the multimillion-dollar tab that taxpayers pick up for that work.
The San Antonio Express-News reports the state so far has paid nearly $4 million in costs associated with 31 lawsuits against the federal government since 2004, according to records provided by Abbott's office. Three were filed while George W. Bush was president, and 28 were against the Obama administration.
The expenses include salaries, overhead, travel, outside counsel and experts.
More than half the total â€” nearly $2.4 million â€” was for two lawsuits seeking federal approval under the Voting Rights Act for GOP-driven redistricting maps and voter identification law. Preclearance was denied, and it's no longer required at this point because of a separate U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case supported by Abbott. Other court cases on those topics continue.
Abbott's office additionally has spent nearly $1.9 million defending the state in another case brought by minority and civil rights groups over redistricting. This amount isn't included in the $4 million tally, which includes only lawsuits he initiated.
Abbott, a Republican who can be counted on to continue his advocacy if he's elected governor next year, says the lawsuits are necessary to battle an aggressive federal government. He has initiated a growing number of lawsuits, their costs rising by nearly $1.4 million since The Associated Press did a tally nearly a year ago.
"If we lose our liberty to an overreaching federal government, we will lose absolutely everything, and that's why I will continue pushing back against Washington, D.C.," Abbott said in telephone town hall meeting in the wake of launching his bid to succeed Gov. Rick Perry.
Critics say the lawsuits favor partisan and corporate interests over Texans who would benefit from the rules he challenges or be harmed by such things as the redistricting plan he champions.
"Anybody who says, 'I get up in the morning every day, I fight President Obama and then I go home' â€” I'm not sure if they're really serving the state of Texas' interests," said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, head of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. His group is among those opposing Abbott in court on redistricting, contending the GOP-backed maps are discriminatory.
"It's reflected in the number of lawsuits that the attorney general has lost challenging the federal government, not to mention the millions of dollars that have been expended by all Texans that pay taxes to fund what is nothing other than a partisan venture by the attorney general," Martinez Fischer said.
The 2014 fiscal year budget for the attorney general's office is $545.7 million, with $80.7 million for legal services and the rest for programs including child support enforcement and crime victims' services.
The attorney general's office says that since 2003, it has collected $1.7 billion for the state treasury, more than twice the $797 million it was allocated for legal services during that time.
Agency spokeswoman Lauren Bean said salary and overhead totaling nearly $2.5 million for the lawsuits against the federal government are costs that would be incurred regardless, since the lawyers would be working on something if not the federal cases.
"Do those same critics also criticize the Obama administration for defending the interests of the Texas Democratic Party in the redistricting litigation? Conveniently enough, they do not â€” which demonstrates the hollow, partisan nature of this baseless criticism," Bean said. The administration is backing efforts to restore federal approval of Texas voting law changes.
More than half the Abbott lawsuits were brought against the Environmental Protection Agency. Others include a lawsuit by Texas and other states against the federal health care law, plus challenges of the federal decision to cut funding to the Women's Health Program after Texas barred Planned Parenthood's participation, red snapper regulations and a provision that prevented $830 million in education funding from reaching Texas.
Abbott's office counts 10 wins (one in the Bush era) and four losses (two in the Bush era), with the other cases pending or the subject of other action.
His tally is open to question.
He has lost legal rounds so far in six additional federal cases but doesn't count those because the state is appealing or considering an appeal.
Some of the cases he counts as wins have caveats, including the redistricting and voter ID issues, which still are the subject of other litigation.
A couple weren't clear courtroom wins. The attorney general's office said it dismissed the education lawsuit when Congress repealed the provision keeping the funding from Texas and that the moratorium lawsuit was dismissed by agreement when the moratorium was lifted.
His office additionally counts a partial win in the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. Supreme Court didn't throw out the law, but it said states couldn't be forced to expand Medicaid.
Conversely, Abbott's office failed to count in its "win" column Texas' challenge of the EPA's cross-state air pollution rule, which would allow the federal agency to regulate air pollution across state lines. Abbott has won so far, but the Supreme Court has agreed to consider the case.
Opponents in the redistricting and voter ID lawsuits scoffed that he counted those as wins. Abbott had lost legal rounds before the Supreme Court, in the Shelby County case from Alabama, lifted the requirement that states like Texas get preclearance in the way they traditionally have had to do. In addition, other litigation is ongoing.
"There's no way that Gregg Abbott can claim victory on redistricting," said Matt Angle of the pro-Democratic Lone Star Project.
Bean said they are "clear victories."
Luke Metzger of Environment Texas took particular issue with Abbott's challenge of the EPA's cross-state air pollution rule. Metzger said the EPA estimated that as many as 1,700 lives would be saved every year in Texas if the rule went into effect.
"When they win, they are basically winning on behalf of the powerful polluters . . . at the expense of the public health of Texans," Metzger said. Angle contended that Abbott is "using power to protect power."
Bean said Abbott defends state laws and agencies and Texans' constitutional rights. She pointed to a list of other cases, aside from those brought against the federal government, to dispute critics' points. They range from an anti-trust case against Apple over electronic book pricing to a verdict against a tax firm to the resolution of an action against Gulf Chemical & Metallurgical Corp. that will require it to pay $7.5 million for environmental problems.
"Greg Abbott's record is one that enforces the law without fear and without favor," Bean said.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.