Making Democracy Work

Ethics in Texas Government

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Position LWV-TX

Position LWV-US

Statement of Position on Congress, as Announced by National Board, April 1972 and Revised March 1982: The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that structures and practices of the U.S. Congress must be characterized by openness, accountability, representativeness, decision making capability and effective performance. Responsive legislative processes must meet these criteria:
  • ACCOUNTABILITY. A Congress responsive to citizens and able to hold its own leaders, committees and members responsible for their actions and decisions.
  • REPRESENTATIVENESS. A Congress whose leaders, committees and members represent the nation as a whole, as well as their own districts and states.
  • DECISION MAKING CAPABILITY. A Congress with the knowledge, resources and power to make decisions that meet national needs and reconcile conflicting interests and priorities.
  • EFFECTIVE PERFORMANCE. A Congress able to function in an efficient manner with a minimum of conflict, wasted time and duplication of effort.
  • OPEN GOVERNMENT. A Congress whose proceedings in committee as well as on the floor are open to the fullest extent possible.

History of LWV-TX Action

History: Political Campaign Process 1991-1992: Based on the LWVUS position calling for an independent body to monitor and enforce election laws, LWV-TX supported the establishment of a state ethics commission in 1991. The League believes, however, the process for appointing members to the commission that was created by constitutional amendment in 1991 is flawed. The League closely monitored the proceedings of the Ethics Commission during its first two years of existence, 1992-93.

1993-1994: Several bills were introduced which would have modified the commission's regulation of lobbyists. These proposals were a mixed bag, from the League's point of view; none were enacted. After the session ended, a League representative was asked to serve on a Rules Advisory Task Force to evaluate the rule-making authority of the Ethics Commission, including that of regulating lobbyists' activities.

1999: Disclosure of campaign funding through the filing of campaign finance reports became the focus of League efforts during the legislative session. The League was successful in achieving passage of a measure that mandates that campaign finance reports be filed electronically and published by the Ethics Commission on the internet. A new advocacy paper was produced for this session, and is listed below.

2003: The Ethics Commission was due its first review by the Sunset Review Commission since its establishment in 1991. In anticipation of legislation to be presented in the 78th session of the Texas Legislature, the League joined a coalition, "Show Me the Money," composed of 60 diverse organizations throughout the state. Of these, six organizations, LWV-TX, Common Cause, Campaigns for People, Public Citizen, The Baptist Christian Life Commission, and Texans for Public Justice, developed strategies during the interim to prepare for legislation in the upcoming legislative session.

House speaker Craddick appointed a Select Committee on Ethics, which introduced a comprehensive bill that outlined reforms to make the Ethics Commission more effective and included strengthening disclosure laws. The League testified in favor of the bill although it did not include all the reforms we and the coalition would have liked. The bill passed the committee unanimously, and subsequently passed the House.

2005: During the 79th Legislative session a coalition of diverse, statewide organizations concerned about the unlimited amounts of money used to finance our state's elections will focus on: * closing corporate and union money loopholes * setting reasonable individual and aggregate contribution limits * improving the effectiveness and independence of the Texas Ethics Commission * opening the legislative process and recording legislative votes.

2007: Two disclosure bills supported did pass although without the governor's signature. These bills provided some measure of success in the session. The Texas Ethics Commission ruled it had no authority to report the value of cash gifts given to elected officials unless the legislature passed required legislation.

2009: Two of the bills were related to the Texas Ethics Commission: HB 3216 provides for immediate notification to respondents of complaints either electronically or by telephone and by written notice after five days. HB 3218 requires that a sworn complaint must include the person's name, address, telephone number, e-mail address if known, be a resident of the State of Texas, and include other pertinent information. These reforms standardize the complaint process.

1991: LWV-TX Action: In the 1991 Legislature the League supported the creation of the Texas Ethics Commission as originally introduced. This support was based on the LWVUS position calling for an independent body to monitor and enforce laws concerning the election of public officials.

A good "resign to run" provision in the Ethics Commission Sunset bill, which would have prohibited Railroad Commissioners seeking statewide office from collecting 143 campaign contributions from the energy companies they regulate, was vetoed by the governor. Also, a good Senate bill dealing with water permitting for hydraulic fracturing failed to advance in the House.

2015 The Governor stated that one of his five priorities for the 84th legislature was to address ethics reform. LWV-TX worked with the Texas Anti-Corruption Campaign (TACC), a partnership of several organizations, including Common Cause, Public Citizen, and Clean Elections Texas, to track and support serious ethics reform bills.

More than 100 bills were filed relating to government ethics. Just fifteen passed the House and Senate. Two were vetoed. The bills passed were, by and large, limited efforts to curb specific abuses in a piecemeal manner. For example, SB 20 (Nelson), which LWV watched carefully, did pass and, while it has some loopholes, it has the potential to prevent some contracting abuses. Another bill, HB 23 (Davis, Sarah), which LWV supported, will extend contracting disclosure requirements to immediate family members.

SB 19 (Taylor, Van), the most comprehensive bill, which LWV testified on, passed both the House and the Senate. Although it was not perfect, following testimony by LWV and other organizations it was improved to include a number of provisions that, if enforced, would have strengthened the Texas Ethics Commission and established meaningful guidelines and criminal offenses for serious official misconduct. Unfortunately, it did not pass out of conference committee, apparently due to disagreements regarding whether to include curbs on "dark money" (undisclosed campaign contributions). The last-minute loss of this bill means serious reforms to rein in egregious campaign practices and almost unimaginable spending once again have eluded us.

Most significant, HB 1690 (King, Phil), which LWV strongly opposed, passed and was signed by the Governor. Its primary purpose was to dissolve the Public Integrity Unit based in the Austin DA's office. Instead, the Texas Rangers are to investigate complaints and refer them to the alleged offender's home county prosecutor. LWV's concern is that this bill creates a separate and unique legal system for politicians and government officials. In addition, a strong non-disclosure provision will prevent public scrutiny. We are left to conclude that the political will to root out and prevent corruption just wasn't there, despite the Governor's professed concerns.