Grading Papers and Presidents
FOLLOW THE MONEY
“When a candidate leaves office, where does all the unspent campaign cash go? If you’re former Attorney General Dan Morales, it moves from your PAC account to your CYA account: Cover Your Ass. When Morales left office three years ago, he spread a few thousand dollars to various Democratic candidates. But the bulk of the money has been spent defending himself from Republican successor John Cornyn’s accusation that Morales tried to cut a friend, Marc Murr, into the legal fees resulting from the $17 billion tobacco settlement, which Morales won while in office. From January of 1999 to June of 2001, Morales paid San Antonio attorney Sam Millsap, Jr. over $200,000 from his campaign account. (These figures do not include Morales’ latest expenditure report, dated January 15.)
From January of 1998 to June of 1999, Morales also paid over $60,000 in consulting fees to Jorge Vega, his longtime friend and former chief lieutenant at the A.G.’s office. In recent court filings, Morales has indicated he will call on Vega to give his side of the story in upcoming court proceedings instigated by Morales “to clear his name.” Vega would presumably challenge the veracity of a fellow former Morales employee, Harry Potter, who has made damaging statements about Murr’s claim to the fees (which he has since abandoned).
According to Karen Lundquist of the Texas Ethics Commission, there are very few restrictions on what campaign money can be used for after a candidate leaves office. In general, the law says that the money cannot be used for “personal use.” As long as a former officeholder keeps a campaign treasurer on file, he or she can hold onto the money indefinitely.
DUDE, WHERE’S MY PAPERS
“Where the hell are the Bush gubernatorial papers? Capitol observers haven’t seen a heist like this since someone stole all the door hinges during the Capitol renovation. We got the historical hinges back, but who knows when we will get to see the governor’s history: all the personal papers, letters, notes, etc., accumulated during his six years in office. In a surprise move, Bush ordered his papers removed to his dad’s presidential library in College Station. The materials archived there are under federal jurisdiction, exempt from the Texas Open Records Act. Public Citizen and others have demanded access to the papers, which are traditionally housed in state archives or state universities, where they remain open to the public after a governor leaves office. Texas has a good open records act, which requires a response within 10 days of a request for records. Bush Library officials have already said they cannot meet that kind of timetable.
Is Bush trying to hide something? With the former governor’s longstanding relationship with Ken Lay and Enron coming under the microscope, the timing is suspicious to say the least. Bush met often with Lay, his friend, advisor, and benefactor, throughout his career; presumably this would have generated some records. Bush has been burned by the Open Records Act before: Details of his secret 1998 meetings with utility CEOs to formulate the state’s grandfathered polluter policy (sound familiar?) came to light through careful scrutiny of governor’s office and agency records by environmental groups. It’s up to Republican Attorney General John Cornyn to decide the records’ fate. General Corndog, who prides himself on being an open-government guy, is expected to make a decision this spring.
In Washington, meanwhile, Bush has already undermined access to presidential papers in his short tenure. Just as thousands of Reagan’s papers were due to be made public, he signed an executive order giving former presidents the ability to restrict ac-cess to their papers. (The order also gives sitting presidents control over past papers.) Presum-ably, those Reagan papers would contain interesting tidbits about then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, as well as Reagan administration cronies like Dick Cheney and Colin Powell.
Late last year, Texas ACLU wrote to each of the state’s police departments and county sheriff’s offices, reminding them of the January 1 statutory deadline for having a racial profiling policy in place, and requesting a copy of each agency’s policy. They got about 270 responses, which they graded. The result? Not bad, according to director Will Harrell. Several agencies had apparently used language from a model policy developed by ACLU in concert with LULAC and NAACP. Still, there is room for improvement. Common errors included a failure to provide for public education about the complaint process to be used by citizens who feel they are victims of racial profiling. Some agencies also ignored the bill’s requirement that the policy enumerate “specific acts” which are prohibited.
Underperforming agencies included the sheriff’s offices of Harris County and, ironically, Dallas County, home of the bill’s major proponent, Senator Royce West. (Both got “C’s”.) Whereas Dallas has lately expressed an interest in discussing improvements, “Harris County is doing their best to not fully comply,” Harrell said. (The City of Houston, incidentally, received high marks.) Some agencies have complained they don’t have the resources to comply with the bill’s reporting requirements. “But if little French, Texas–with only four police officers–can get an ‘A’, then clearly we have an eminently implementable law,” Harrell said. Others who were less than enthusiastic about enforcing the new law reportedly include at least one board member of TCLEOSE, the state board that sets law enforcement training standards. West has invited all interested parties to discuss implementation of the new law at an interim meeting of the Senate Jurisprudence Committee.