April 21, 2014

Toothless Texas ethics — second-latest installment is #WendyDavis (updated)

Update, April 21: Davis is now just the second-latest; scroll down for a GOPer with basically the same problems, plus additional ones.

The latest conflict of interest problems of Wendy Davis (and other state legislators of both parties, like GOP state Sen. John Carona) illustrate the laughable toothlessness of much of what passes for ethics legislation in Texas. (The story also illustrates the continuing decline of big-bucks mainstream media; Wayne Slater, a veteran political reporter, misspelled Carona's last name, and nobody on copy desk caught it. Twenty-four hours later, Wayne Slater's not responded to my Tweet, and the misspelling still isn't fixed.)

It's yet another reason why the Green Party should be skeptical about making deals with Democrats, like the idea of suspending gubernatorial candidate Brandon Parmer's campaign in the idea of helping Davis.

Specific to Davis, and the North Texas Tollway Association, it's "interesting" how loudly power and money can shout:
As a member of the Fort Worth City Council and the regional transportation authority, Davis had a history as an NTTA critic. She voted as a state senator in 2009 against an NTTA-backed measure to give the agency first right of refusal for building road projects in the region. As the 2011 legislative session opened, she introduced a bill to sharply cap the fees NTTA could charge on delinquent tolls.
But, when her law firm got a contract to work for NTTA, things changed. And changed indeed. (Especially given that politics, and political money, made strange bedfellows of her and her "political boutique" firm's partner, Brian Newby, who used to work for Tricky Ricky Perry.)

Again, it's not just Davis and it's not just Democrats. The story notes:
Being a state legislator is a part-time job. The Texas Constitution prohibits lawmakers from voting on measures in which they have “a personal or private interest,” though only if it affects a lawmaker’s specific business. It doesn’t apply to measures affecting entire industries or issues.
For example, Republican Sen. John Corona [sic, per my note above] of Dallas, founder of the nation’s largest homeowners’ management association, has written legislation benefiting those groups. Democratic Sen. Rodney Ellis’ Houston firm has represented local governments on bond issues. Former House Speaker Tom Craddick, a Republican from Midland with significant oil and gas investments, regularly sponsors bills boosting the industry. And Republican Rep. Gary Elkins, a payday lender, has supported efforts in the Legislature to protect such firms.
And, we haven't even talked about Rick Perry's Texas Enterprise Slush Fund.

If the Greens really suspended Parmer's campaign, even though he officially remained on the ballot, I wouldn't vote for him, nor would I vote for Davis.

Until we get something radical here in the Pointy Abandoned Object State, like public campaign financing (an adequately paid but full-time state legislature in a state our side would also be nice), things won't change. 


Actually, Davis is now the second-latest installment of loose ethics. Back on the GOP side, Ken Paxton, in a runoff to be the nominee for Abbott's AG seat, is accused of basically the same issues as Davis

The Texas Tribune obtained 2006 letters showing the McKinney lawmaker was being paid to solicit clients for a North Texas financial services firm at a time when he was not registered with the State Securities Board. Registration in such circumstances is typically required. Nor did Paxton ever reveal his solicitor work on the employment history section of his personal financial statements, which must be filed regularly with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Also missing from his ethics filings is any disclosure of his service on the boards of at least a half-dozen nonprofit corporations, the Tribune investigation found. Ethics laws require legislators to reveal service on corporate boards, including nonprofit ones.
He's busy looking for loopholes, a low-level staffer to blame, or both, as we speak.

That said, this is about more than ethics, and backdating loopholes and reports. It's also potential state regulatory hot water for him:
Running afoul of State Securities Board regulations, on the other hand, carries potentially tougher penalties; violations can range from fines to felony prosecution. Paxton has not been accused of wrongdoing. His campaign declined to answer any questions about his employment history, details that are necessary to determine whether laws were broken.
He can stonewall the Trib right now; the Securities Board can start legal requests, though, if Paxton doesn't voluntarily cough up paperwork.

So, even if Paxton is the fave in the runoff, are GOP leading lights, even more wingnutty ones, going to start "leaning" on him to get out?

This is worse, indeed, than Davis.
1. It involves potential criminality, not just ethics.
2. It involves potential criminality from someone running for Texas' top law enforcement office.

I hadn't paid full attention when the third GOP candidate in the pre-runoff round, Barry Smitherman, first raised allegations. I figured it was him and Paxton as two candidates that are in the more wingnutty portion of the GOP in various ways and degrees vs. Dan Branch as the one representative of the semi-sane branch, and Smitherman was just trying to gain some traction. It's actually more than that, though.

There's past lawsuits and other issues that clearly bring into question Paxton's fitness to hold this position.


Sidebar: In a "political chess match" issue, this is why it's always easier to run for governor from a lower-level executive position than from a legislative one. Same is true at the federal level. Aside from Dear Leader, who surely had one-quarter of an eyeball on the White House as soon as he was elected to the U.S. Senate, and half of one from 2006 on, we don't elect senators and representatives to be our presidents. We dip into statehouses, have Veeps jump up via death, or in the case of Poppy Bush or, belatedly, Tricky Dick, elect a Veep to the office. Ike as a war hero fits the executive model well, actually. The last presidents not to fit the mold, Hoover and Taft, actually did, coming from a previous president's cabinet. Before that? Post-Civil War, all the GOP candidates were war heroes first, even if they later served in Congress, and Grover Cleveland, on his first time around, was a governor.

Unfortunately for Texas Democrats, who don't hold any statewide offices, this doesn't bode well, which is why Bill White as a mayor got the nod in 2010. Assuming Davis doesn't win, it's back to looking at mayors, or finding a rich businessman who's more of a Democrat than Tony Sanchez was in 2002.


Sidebar 2: Bill White's new book proves he's a double-dyed neolib. Please, Texas Dems, never nominate him to another electoral campaign run in your collective lives.


Sidebar 3: New polling numbers don't look good for Davis, especially the rise in her "negatives." P.Diddle has further take on this, the uphill sleds of both of the third parties in the state as shown at their conventions and more.

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