Sunday, July 16, 2006

Flunking the Ethics Test

Watchdog group Texans for Public Justice releases a report on just how carefully politicians comply with a 2003 law calling for candidates to report their donors' jobs and who those contributors work for, and legislators fail miserably:

Texas lawmakers collectively flunked a test of their own campaign reform law, which requires state candidates to use their “best efforts” to report the employers and occupations of individual donors of $500 or more, a Texans for Public Justice report card found.
So how do Rio Grande Valley politicians end up looking in this report card?

Pretty crappy.

Just one of the people we elect from South Texas scores as good as a C. At the head of the class is state Rep. Ryan Guillen of Roma, with a score of 72.2%. Fellow blogger state Rep. Aaron Peña Jr. earns a D with 67.5%. Most of the rest have scores that sound like what Dean Wormer would give to the members of Delta House ("Zero point zero, Mr. Blutarski.").

SENATE: First, our senators show their ability to ignore the rules, as the report card shows:
The Senate’s weakest performances came from Sens. Jon Lindsay (R-Houston), Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) and Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo). These senators collectively reported a total of 306 large contributions totaling $412,150. Yet they left the occupation and employer field blank for every one of their large donors. (emphasis added)
And the one Valley senator who bothers to fill in all the blanks still earns an abysmal score:

  • Eddie Lucio Jr. (Brownsville): 0.0%
  • Judith Zaffirini (Laredo): 0.0%
  • Chuy Hinojosa (McAllen): 22.0%
HOUSE: Next, our representatives -- two of whom didn't even bother to fill in the blanks. As the report card points out:

An extraordinary 28 members of the House (19 percent) not only flunked disclosure but left the occupation and employer fields blank for every one of their large donors. Three members accomplished this feat while raising more than $100,000 apiece in large contributions. They are Reps. Kino Flores (D-Palmview), Veronica Gonzales (D-McAllen) and Sylvester Turner (D-Houston). (emphasis added)
Anyway, the dishonor roll for Valley members of the Texas House:
  • Kino Flores (Mission): 0.0%
  • Veronica Gonzales (McAllen): 0.0%
  • Jim Solis (Harlingen): 0.0%
  • Juan Escobar (Kingsville): 39.0%
  • Mando Martinez (Weslaco): 42.6%
  • Aaron Peña (Edinburg): 67.5%
  • Rene Oliveira (Brownsville): 69.2%
  • Ryan Guillen (Roma): 72.2%
Get this: House Speaker Tom Craddick (74.9%) scores higher than any of our South Texas legislators! In fact, the Republicans beat the Democrats overall, 64% to 48%.

From a section of the report about mystery donors (contributors who are incompletely or misleadingly identified, like calling Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton a "self-employed rancher or investor") comes this tidbit:

Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), a champion of tobacco-control legislation, failed to identify the employers or occupations of three trial lawyers who litigated Texas’ $15 billion lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
To be fair to Zaffirini, she explains in this San Antonio Express-News story that she didn't know about the law and is hiring someone to catch up with all the paperwork. And some politicians take issue with how TPJ scored the report, because the law doesn't say you have to list a person's previous occupation or family tree.

Still, this report shows our elected officials have a long way to go when it comes to complying with campaign donation reporting requirements.


Blogger Shaine Mata said...

I'm speechless.

6:22 PM  
Blogger pugsley dibrute said...

I'm not suprised .

6:17 AM  
Blogger Free Antarctica said...

Usually I'd be the first in line to dump on these pols regarding ethics issues but this TPJ report was designed to fail as many of them as possible. There are really no excuses for the zero's but the "test" was created by the TPJ on their own subjective criteria not on state statute.

I know because I called them. For a few years now I have been filling out these reports for a few elected officials. My reports came in at the 50-75 percentile. I am pretty diligent about the TEC reporting requirements and was shocked to see those scores. I called them up and got a thorough breakdown of there scoring and criteria.

You got penalized heavily for being “vague”or “misleading”, very subjective, eg., Occupation "Rancher" - Employer -"Self.” Now in Texas we have very many fulltime ranchers who manage their own land and have lots of money to give to their political friends so reporting a contributor as such is lawful and in my opinion thorough. We also got hit with the “retired businessman.” Many contributors are retired and still give away a lot of their money. TPJ penalized submissions like these all across the board. Many times these reports fulfilled their ethical obligations and that is how they should have been reported and graded.

Texas has a great number of lobbyists in operation. They give plenty of money, sometimes there own but usually it comes from an association they represent. When they give from an association it is easy to report because it is an entity not an individual and the association name is on the check. When a lobbyist gives from his own personal funds and it is over $500 you must fulfill the employer/occupation. Most lobbyists who give on their own behalf work for themselves and are essentially contract laborers. You were penalized as being “vague” if you listed someone as a “lobbyist” but failed to mention who they lobbied for. If a lobbyist works for him/her self and has 15 clients you don’t need to list them.

The biggest hits my reports took were on the occasions that the candidate themselves contributed to their own campaigns, i.e. not loans, and I failed to list their occupation and employer. TPJ said they “missed that” but “hey no test like this had ever been created so we had to make up the standards ourselves.”

TPJ operates this bs “gotcha” politics where they sensationalize issues to make a point. I understand that politicians in general don’t deserve much better but in this case Mack do a bit more research before you start piling on.

9:29 AM  

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