An Ethics Commission in name only

Posted in Around The State, Money In Politics, The Lege at 11:41 am by wcnews

Anyone that thinks that the Texas Legislature is going to approve more stringent ethics laws on themselves is fooling themselves. That’s the gist of what went happened yesterday when the Texas Ethics Commission was the topic of a Sunset Commission hearing yesterday, Lawmakers Take First Steps Toward Reforming Ethics Commission.

The Texas Ethics Commission has two basic jobs. First, it’s the state’s repository for candidates’ campaign filings and lobbyist disclosure forms. Second, it’s supposed to police the system and make sure people are complying with the rules. State government watchdogs like Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice say the problem is that it only does that first function well

“It’s getting a little better, but as it gets better the tendency in the Legislature is to clip its wings,” McDonald said. “It gets all its money from the Legislature, and I think if overnight it turned into an aggressive enforcement agency, it would likely lose the support and funding that it gets now.”

Enter the Sunset Advisory Commission. It’s the Ethics Commission’s turn to go through the review process given to all state agencies to make sure they’re doing their job efficiently. Based on staff recommendations and lawmaker amendments, the Ethics Commission could simply be reauthorized, or it could undergo dramatic changes. Public Citizen’s Tom “Smitty” Smith thinks scrapping it and starting over might not be a bad idea.

“It was designed to fail from day one,” Smith said.

Via Bay Area Houston, there also much talk of minnows and sharks, Thoughts on Texas Ethics Commission hearing.

Here are some very quick observations from the Sunset hearing on the Texas Ethics Commission. Video is here:

  1. For an agency that is partially responsible for making Texas the laughing stock of the country , the Executive Director of the TEC was treated with padded gloves.
  2. Not one single “good government” teabagger was there. Not one “conservative” organization was represented or took time to read the report or provide testimony.
  3. About 15 people representing themselves, political clubs, and organizations such as Texans for Public Justice, Public Citizen, Texas Together, and more came forward in support of the Sunset Commission’s recommendation.
  4. Based upon the hearing, I doubt if the Chair, State Representative Bonnen, is truly interested in reforming the TEC.

It was pretty clear the Chair focused on the minnows of the “minnows vs sharks” discussion. The Sunset staff rightfully suggested that a tiered set of violations should be adopted to weed out those who are simply making clerical mistakes on their campaign finance reports (minnows) from those such as State Representative Joe Driver who are committing felonies. (sharks) This recommendation was supported across the board from everyone who testified.

Despite all of that it’s unlikely that the legislature will empower an Ethics Commission, that oversees the legislature, with any power to punish the legislature. There are certainly many needed and necessary changes that need to be made to the Ethics Commission in Texas. But it’s extremely unlikely that those changes will come through the Sunset process in 2013.

Further Reading:
Lawmakers, watchdog groups suggest changes to Ethics Commission.
Sunset’s Ethics Commission Report Comes Up Short

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.