Skip to main content

Transparency can be downright hazardous to Texas lawmakers


By Ross Ramsey

Texas Sen. Royce West, as it turns out, does a lot of government business. Not that you’d know that from reading the disclosures he’s required to make as a state lawmaker.

The Texas Tribune’s Jay Root ferreted that information out of West’s federal filings — required because the Dallas Democrat wants to be a U.S. senator, and federal disclosure laws are more serious than the window-dressing ethics requirements here at home.

Those federal disclosures tell you a lot about West — that he has made millions of dollars in legal fees representing governmental entities and that he jointly manages a tax consulting firm with a company owned by a top Republican donor, for instance.

But it also points out the timorous condition of the state’s disclosure laws. That condition isn’t new; in fact, a recent tweak to those weak requirements revealed some detail about West’s government contracts.

And the holes haven’t really been hidden, either. Former Gov. Rick Perry showed us some of the holes in state reporting laws when he was running for president in 2011 and had to meet more stringent standards of disclosure. Here’s one you might remember: He had been double-dipping by collecting his state pension and his state salary at the same time. It was legal, but it was also a political embarrassment.

David Dewhurst showed us when he ran for U.S. Senate against Ted Cruz around the same time. State filings indicated he was worth more — possibly a lot more — than $30 million or $40 million. But the detailed federal filings put his net worth in the $200 million range, rich as a Romney. Had he won that election, he’d have been one of the richest members of a Congress that already has some very rich people.

State officials or candidates can hide conflicts of interest and secret assets and income much easier than people seeking or holding federal office can. West is just the newest member of that club.

The disclosures could matter, too, providing leads for the eight opponents who are also seeking the Democratic nomination to run against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn next year. If West is the nominee, it’ll be Cornyn’s turn.

And if West falls short, either in the primaries or the general election, he’ll still be in the Texas Senate, debating bills and doing government work with colleagues who now know a lot more about his business, his income and net worth than they knew before he stuck his foot into a federal race and subjected himself to those detailed disclosure laws.

Doesn’t it make you wonder about everybody else in Texas government?

Even though most details about members' financial condition and interests are uninteresting, they can be illuminating. And in cases like West's, those details could be the most educational.

Just dream of it:

Who has potential or real conflicts of interest, voting on legislation that could enhance their incomes and investments, or new state laws that might limit the strength of business competitors?

Who’s in financial trouble, subject to overtures from interests and people who happen to need something from the government?

Who has reaped an actual fortune by holding what looks like a loser job, a $600-per-month-plus-expenses gig in the Texas Legislature?

And here’s the big question all those other questions help answer: Why do the people in government vote the way they vote, side with the folks they side with, file the bills they file (and avoid the ones they don’t); why do they act the way they act?

You have a better chance of answering questions like those if you’re watching the federal government; in Texas, the disclosure laws are better than nothing and, at the same time, pretty weak tea.

A better chance, that is, unless you’re watching someone like Royce West, who ran for a federal job and, as a consequence, had to show more of his financial cards.

It puts him at an unfair disadvantage in Austin, though: His Texas colleagues in the elected class don’t have to do the same thing.

This article originally appeared at the Texas Tribune.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

First confirmed case of COVID-19 in Canyon

The Amarillo Area Public Health has confirmed 1 case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Canyon.

"Due to sensitive information we are not able to share details regarding this case," the city said in a statement.

On Monday, Canyon Mayor Gary Hinders hosted a Facebook Live giving details of Canyon’s response to COVID-19 Status Level Red, which is aligned with the City of Amarillo and new Amarillo Public Health guidance.

Effective immediately, Amarillo Public Health has updated its coronavirus (COVID-19) Level to RED. This is the highest alert level, indicating there are widespread confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Amarillo and the surrounding area.

Hinders issued stay at home guidelines, that went into effect tonight, (March 30) at 11:59 pm and will be in place at least through Monday, April 13, 2020.

"We ask that residents stay at home except for outings essential to their own health, safety, and welfare and that of their family members," the city said.

Under these guideline…

Grocery stores impacted by COVID-19 outbreak

With the continued spread of COVID-19, many grocery stores throughout the area have been facing changes in operations as well as economic impacts.

Nancy Sharp, manager of communications and community engagement for the United “family,” which includes all Llano Logistics, RC Taylor, United Express, Amigos, Market Street and United Supermarkets, said COVID-19 has many people doing some fear-driven, panic-type buying, causing a significant increase in traffic in stores and people purchasing items.

The closure of dining establishments has also impacted sales as more people are cooking at home, which Sharp said has provided an increase to grocery stores across the country. The increase in traffic has also increased the amount of people who are working in the stores and the need for additional cleaning.

“We are cleaning multiple times a day, multiple surfaces. And so that has definitely increased the number,” Sharp said. “We're restocking several times a day; that also has increased th…

White House projects between 100,000 and 240,000 American deaths from coronavirus

President Trump's top health advisers said Tuesday that models show between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans could die from the novel coronavirus even if the country keeps stringent social distancing guidelines in place.

Without any measures to mitigate the disease's spread, those projections jump to between 1.5 and 2.2 million deaths from COVID-19.

The models, which were displayed at a White House press briefing Tuesday, underpinned Trump's decision to extend social distancing guidelines to the end of April.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, explained the data, urging the public to steel for difficult weeks ahead while expressing hope that the efforts would reduce the spread of the coronavirus. 

“There’s no magic bullet, there’s no magic vaccine or therapy. It’s just behaviors,” Birx said, adding that it would be those behaviors that could change “the course of the viral pandemic.”

Second COVID-19 case confirmed in Canyon

The Amarillo Area Public Health has confirmed a second positive case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Canyon. Due to sensitive information the City of Canyon is not provided details on any cases.

Last week, Mayor Gary Hinders hosted a Facebook Live giving details of Canyon’s response to COVID-19 Status Level Red, which is aligned with the City of Amarillo and new Amarillo Public Health guidance.

Effective immediately, Amarillo Public Health has updated its coronavirus (COVID-19) Level to RED. This is the highest alert level, indicating there are widespread confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Amarillo and the surrounding area.

Hinders issued stay at home guidelines, that went into effect March 30 at 11:59 pm and will be in place at least through Monday, April 13, 2020.

"We ask that residents stay at home except for outings essential to their own health, safety, and welfare and that of their family members," the city said.

Under these guidelines, all businesses, except those essenti…

First COVID-19 death in Lubbock: City confirms 10 additional cases

The City of Lubbock confirmed its first COVID-19 related death in a news release on Saturday. The individual was a male in his 60s who had underlying health conditions and was a resident of Lubbock, according to the release.

As of 5 p.m. on Saturday, the City of Lubbock has confirmed 10 additional cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in Lubbock County to 41, according to the release.

The Texas Department of State Health Services has reported additional cases of COVID-19 in the surrounding areas to Lubbock County, including seven in Hockley County, one in Terry County, one in Gaines County, one in Hale County and one in Yoakum County, according to the release.

The City of Lubbock Health Department will continue monitoring individuals to reduce the risk of the transmission of COVID-19, according to the release.