NOVEMBER 29, 2006
Public officials in one of the nation’s largest states can legally accept unlimited gifts and cash without disclosing amounts, according to a new ethics commission guideline.
Though it may seem like a joke, the Texas Ethics Commission affirmed this week that officials can indeed accept gifts and money from donors without revealing the amount. Officials need only file a vague report that lists a gift of currency and the source.
The Ethics Commission’s new Wild West gift rule even contradicts Lone Star State law, which says that elected officials, board appointees and other public employees must provide details of any gift valued at more than $250.
This makes the new Ethics Commission ruling laughable and one that has been interpreted as a sort of legalized bribery. The director of a nonpartisan group that tracks the influence of money and corporate power in Texas politics said it “creates a loophole big enough to drive an armored car full of cash through.”
The eight-member Texas Ethics Commission voted on the issue after a powerful board member of the state’s retirement system received a hefty check from a shady Houston homebuilder and renowned political donor. The board member did not disclose the amount and several groups complained that it violated state law if in fact it exceeded $250.
So the Texas Ethics Commission voted 5-3 against disclosure, leading one political blog to accuse the commission of an absurd attack on the principles of open government and honesty in politics. Another encourages all Texans to write to the commission, saying that there can’t be a single red-blooded American Patriot who would not bristle and boil against the notion of secret cash donations to a political party.
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