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Value of Donation Not Required By Texas Ethics Commission

by: Cody Yocom

Tue Nov 28, 2006 at 08:22 AM CST

The ongoing debate of whether the value of gifts to public officials had to be disclosed under Texas law was settled on Monday, at least for now.  On a 5-3 vote, commissioners chose to allow merely describing what was given, rather than the amount, to public officials. 

The controversy came about when Employee Retirement System of Texas member Bill Ceverha described a $50,000 check from GOP bankroller Bob Perry as a "check" rather than listing the value. 

What this means to Texans is that open government rules put in place to prevent this sort of mess have a large loophole.  Should someone like James Leininger or Bob Perry wish to give $200,000 to, say, a state representative candidate anywhere in Texas, all that candidate would have to report is that they received a "check" from those said individuals. 

The ruling, by the 8 Republican members of the Texas Ethics Commission, is an absurd attack on the principals of open government and honesty in politics.

TEC vice chairman Tripp Davenport told the media after the hearing that ruling shows a clear loophole "and it needs to be addressed."  Of course, no word yet on whether Republican leaders are in a rush to address the issue. 

More after the break...

House Democratic Leader Jim Dunnam responded to the ruling saying, "This opinion assaults common sense requirements for full and open disclosure." 

The TEC has proposed a changed to the law in it's list of issues needing to be addressed next legislative session.  Four bills currently pre-filed would require disclosure of the gift value. 

This is certainly an issue that has earned addressing.  Regardless of party affiliation, it has been shown time and again that the people do care about full disclosure of political contributions and donations, perhaps more than even whom the donations are from.  Keep your eyes peeled for this issue to come up in the spring.  How it is handled may make a world of difference in 2008. 

Dallas Morning News and The Quorum Report were used as sources for much of this information. 

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Do not republish without express written permission.

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Embarrassing ruling (4.00 / 2)
Another captured agency that's been gutted.  What's the point of even having an ethics commission when they don't do their job.

Whatever happened to the lawsuit that Lon Burnam filed against the commission on this very issue?  I'm sure Lon will be filing a bill to address this.

wow, that is excellent! (4.00 / 2)
i love a good 'hoisting on their own petard' and so i like to imagine this will come back to bite them, and not just in 'checks' given elsewhere, but also as one of those indefensible examples which shows absolute corruption, incompetence, and nefariousness (and yes thats a real word, i checked ; )

-my comments at BOR are mine, and do not represent anything official from LFT.

The aftermath (0.00 / 0)

I think there is a very good chance this gets "fixed" in the next session.  But, I want everyone aware of it so that when it comes around we can take a close look into how they address it.  We seen how well things have gotten fixed in the past.  It is an embarrassing ruling, for sure.  One would think that Texas could have at least a minority of Democrats on the Ethics Commission.  Instead, we're stuck with all Republican appointees loyal to the leadership.  It's sad that Texas has turned into pay to play Tammany Hall.

State Rep Elliott Naishtat will file a bill (3.00 / 1)
Cody I quite agree with you that the dirty secret must be aired.  Perhaps what we need is a timeline of this whole issue.  It has many layers and many players. We of course should name all the republican appointees and their backgrounds.  They're on this committee for a purpose and it's not for the public good either.

I found this diary Matt Glazer wrote on Wed Sep 20, 2006 with the tip about Elliott's bill.

Debating Ethics
Austin Democratic State Rep Elliott Naishtat seems more than happy to tell the public who supports him, how much they like him, and what they gave him. Naishtat has already announced he will file a bill that will require a "description" of a gift as the "fair market value" of the gift.

Friday the TEC is meeting to make a case for their proposal, but the most surprising part is how the Republican Party is constantly changing the rules to cultivate corruption at our state capitol.

Instead of holding elected officials accountable by making the process more transparent, they are hiding behind words like, "check", "gift", and "bucket of money".

[ Parent ]
Rep. Burnam was quick to respond (3.00 / 1)
I found this blog doing a search for that lawsuit.  Good summary info.

jobsanger blog
Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Rep. Burnam was quick to respond to the ruling. He said, "What the commission did was absurd. There is no way for the public to have any understanding of what sort of influence-peddling might be going on in state government."

Since the Texas Ethics Commission refuses to do its job, it now falls to the Texas Legislature to do it for them. Several bills have been put on the docket for the upcoming legislative session, that would require the dollar amount of all gifts to be disclosed.

TEC into the "Sunset" (2.00 / 1)
So when is the TEC due to come before the Sunset Commission? Sounds like they need to be fast tracked into it.

Bills filed (4.00 / 2)
HB 64 by Rep. David Leibowitz (D), HB 72 by Rep. Fred Hill (R), HB 158 by Rep. Elliott Naishtat, and HB 255 by Rep. Todd Smith all would require a statement of fair market value of any gifts.

Now, a very great man once said that some people rob you with a fountain pen.

Not a Surprise (5.00 / 1)
I am not sure if all 8 members are Republicans but it is clear that the Commissioners are all Republican appointments.

The Ethics committee did what they had to do to protect the Gov, Lite Gov, and Speaker and Republican mega-donor Bob Perry-- the voted to ignore a black and white law.

Yesterdays ruling came after months of posturing and avoidance by this committee, and they failed to even have a discussion on the issue.

It is a sad day when the Texas Ethics Commission fails to curb the tide of buying and selling legislators.

District Attorney said it best, "This is not a partisan issue. Temptation will always be bipartisan." The Ethics Commission apparently does not want to end the era of temptation fueled by sugar-daddies like James Leininger and Bob Perry.

I can almost see the mail pieces now... (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
Let's identify that District Attorney again (0.00 / 0)
That would be Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle.  Kudos to Ronnie.

And I'd also like to give a shout out to Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice who testified before this committee in March with an equally impressive description.  I can't remember it verbatim, but it went something like this.  Under this committee's interpretation of this rule, a legislator could receive an armored truck full of cash, and only have to put down the word "truck" and that would be legal. McDonald read the committee the definition of the word "description" from a dictionary and said that the word "check" was not a sufficient description for a large amount of money. It certainly was not the intent of the original law.

From my notes of that meeting these 3; Ross Ficher, Raymond Trip Davenport (vice chair), and Francisco Hernandez were the absolute corruption enablers.  Not all of the commissioners were present at that meeting.

Nicholas Taylor seemed to be sane, at least that day he was.

[ Parent ]
Thanks for Clarifying (0.00 / 0)
I definitely meant to source DA Earle for his sage words.

[ Parent ]
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