Texas Ethics? Uh, No. Commission Allows State Disclosure Laws That "Condone Bribery"
A Texas official who receives any sum of cash as a gift can satisfy state disclosure laws by reporting the money simply as "currency," without specifying the amount, the Texas Ethics Commission reiterated Monday.
The 5-3 decision outraged watchdog groups and some Democratic officials who unabashedly accused the commission of failing to enforce state campaign finance laws.
Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, told the Houston Chronicle the "currency" interpretation would render it "perfectly legal to report the gift of 'a wheelbarrow' without reporting that the wheelbarrow was filled with cash."
Cash gifts to state officials became an issue when Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, who finances Republican campaigns and causes, gave Bill Ceverha a check to help pay legal bills accumulated when he was a GOP operative. Ceverha, by then a member of the state Employee Retirement System board, reported that he was given a check, but not the amount.
It was later learned that Ceverha received two checks totaling $100,000. But the commission says state officials only have to report that they received a gift of more than $250 -- not the exact amount.
As the Austin American-Statesman noted in an editorial yesterday: "That, in essence, misleads the public and condones bribery."
State Rep. Lon Burnam, a Democrat from Fort Worth, sued the ethics commission in April asking that "meaningful" descriptions of gifts be required.
After the ethics commission ruled on Monday, Burnam said he was eager to move forward with the lawsuit.
The opinion "clearly, obviously violates the intent of the law," he told the Associated Press. "They deliberately I think misconstrued it and they are showing how utterly spineless and useless they are as an ethics commission."