Tag Archives: Texas Ethics Commission

So much for Texas ethics reform

Gov. Greg Abbott wanted the Texas Legislature to improve the state’s ethical conduct rules.

The first-term governor didn’t get anything close to what he wanted. Indeed, the just-concluded legislative session drew some barbs from members of the Texas Ethics Commission. And when those guys ding you, well, you’ve been dinged.


It appears that the Legislature went the other way. According to former Ethics panel chairman Jim Clancy, some bills awaiting Abbott’s signature “scare me to death.”

One of them makes it easier for political spouses’ financial statements to be hidden. According to the Texas Tribune, the bill repeals an earlier reform aimed at requiring such disclosure.

Nicely done, legislators. Just kidding, of course.

The Texas ethical code is pretty loose as it is. Lawmakers can leave public office and move directly into lobbying positions, where they can persuade their former legislative pals to back bills in the best interests of the new lobbyists’ clients. Cooling-off period? Forget about it.

The governor can try again in 2017 when the next Legislature returns. He’ll have logged some time in office. Perhaps he can use that time to persuade his friends in the Legislature that he really means it.

Reform, improve and tighten the state’s ethical code, or else. What’s more, Gov. Abbott, make the “or else” mean something.


Who picks up the tab for meals?

State Sen. Kirk Watson wants Texans to know more about the folks who spend money on meals for registered lobbyists.

He wants to close a loophole in the state ethics laws. From where I sit, the Austin Democrat is spot on in seeking what looks like a minor change, but which could carry significant symbolic weight.


Watson has filed some bills that seek to require lobbyists to be more forthcoming on who picks up the tab for meals.

As the Texas Tribune reports: “Watson said he’s not casting ‘aspersions’ on anyone but hopes his legislation will increase public confidence in state officials as they interact with lobbyists representing various interests at the Capitol. State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, has filed similar legislation, but Watson’s bills take the concept a few steps further. They extend the reporting requirements to spending on relatives of state officials while building in protection against future loopholes.”

The Tribune adds: “Under current law, lobbyists are supposed to disclose their wining and dining activities to the Texas Ethics Commission. But there’s a catch. They can spend up to $114 on a single legislator or state official — for items such as meals, lodging and transportation — without having to disclose the details to authorities. Anything over that is supposed to be itemized and include the name of the official.”

One of the bills Watson has filed would reduce the limit required for expense reporting to $50.

Watson’s effort is a worthwhile attempt to shine some light on the interaction between lobbyists and legislators. Given that the state allows legislators to leave public office and become lobbyists almost immediately, it’s good to have some sharper eyes on the activities of the men and women who put the squeeze on legislators to do their employers’ bidding.


Legislators earn a pat on the back

Forgive me, all you cynics, but I’m about to say something good about the Texas Legislature.

The Texas Ethics Commission has approved a $40 daily boost in the per diem allowance paid to lawmakers, increasing that amount to $190 daily while the Legislature is in session.

Why the good word for legislators? The commission had considered boosting the per diem expense allotment to $210 daily, but cut it back 20 bucks a day — on the recommendation of legislative leaders, according to the Texas Tribune.


You know, we all tend to get all hot and bothered when politicians boost their pay. The state, of course, takes that task away from legislators directly, handing it to the Ethics Commission. That’s only right, given that asking legislators to give themselves a raise would smack of, well, feather-bedding.

It’s not that our legislators do their job for the money. They get paid $7,200 annually, plus the per diem expense allotment when they’re meeting in regular or special sessions. This means they need to have some money socked away somewhere, or else be independently wealthy.

Amarillo’s two state representatives, Republicans Four Price and John Smithee, are lawyers when they aren’t legislators. Our state senator, Republican Kel Seliger, formerly owned a lucrative steel company; but he sold it a few years ago, presumably for some serious dough. I’m betting all three of these men are financially able to devote time to legislating.

I’m glad to see legislators able to give up a few bucks. It won’t put the state over the top, but the decision does send an important symbolic message that might even assuage some of the cynicism out there about money-grubbing politicians.