Texas Observer VOLUME 94, NO. 6 A Journal of Free Voices Since 1954 Founding Editor: Ronnie Dugger Editor: Nate Blakeslee Managing Editor: Barbara Belejack Associate Editor: Jake Bernstein Editor-at-Large: Karen Olsson Managing Publisher: Jim Ball Circulation Manager: Candace Carpenter Art Director: Julia Austin Poetry Editor: Naomi Shihab Nye Copy Editor: Roxanne Bogucka Development Director: Susan Morris Interns: Will Potter, Emily Rapp Seitz, Sandra Spicher Contributing Writers: Gabriela Bocagrande, Robert Bryce, Louis Dubose, Michael Erard, James K. Galbraith, Dagoberto Gilb, Steven G. Kellman, Lucius Lomax, Char Miller, Debbie Nathan, John Ross, Brad Tyer. Staff Photographers: Alan Pogue, Jana Birchum. Contributing Artists: Sam Hurt, Kevin Kreneck, Michael Krone, Gary Oliver, Ben Sargent, Penny Van Horn, Gail Woods. Editorial Advisory Board: David Anderson, Chandler Davidson, Dave Denison, Sissy Farenthold, John Kenneth Galbraith, Lawrence Goodwyn, Jim Hightower, Maury Maverick Jr., Kaye Northcott, Susan Reid. In Memoriam: Bob Eckhardt, 1913-2001 Cliff Olof’son, 1931-1995 Texas Democracy Foundation Board: Ronnie Dugger, Marc Grossberg, Molly lvins, D’Ann Johnson, Jim Marston, Bernard Rapoport, Geoffrey Rips, Gilberto Ocanas. The Texas Observer entire contents copyrighted 2002, is published biweekly except every three weeks during January and August \(24 issues Profit foundation, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. Telephone: E-mail: [email protected] World Wide Web DownHome page: www.texasobserver.org . Periodicals Postage Paid at Austin,Texas. Subscriptions: One year $32, two years $59, three years $84. Full-time students $18 per year; add $13/year for foreign subs. Back issues $3 prepaid. Airmail, foreign, group, and bulk rates on request. Microfilm available from University Microfilms Intl., 300 N. Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. Indexes: Tin’ 7? as Observer is indexed in Access:The . Supplementary Index to Periodicals; Texas Index and, for the years 1954 through 1981, The Texas Observer Index. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to: The Tiwas Observer; 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. 77te Books & the Culture section is partially /rustled through grants from the City ofAustin under the auspices of the Austin Arts Commission and the Writer:< League of Tiwas, both in cooperation with the Texas Commission on the Arts. 0 n April 24 the Sunset Advisory Commission will hold a public hearing as part of its review of the dysfunctional Texas Ethics Commission. The TEC was formed after a wave of scandals in the late eighties and early nineties. Among them were free-spending lobbyists collectively lavishing millions on wining and dining legislators, Chicken King Bo Pilgrim handing out $10,000 "campaign contributions" on the Senate floor, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams lending his campaign millions in an attempt to buy office. The call for reform was strong, but as is so often the case, the actual legislation enacted was not. Certainly some of the more egregious practices were banned: Lobbyists can't spend more than $50 per day on an individual legislator; businessmen can no longer dish out money in the legislative chambers proper. But the big disappointment of the 1991 session was the Ethics Commission. Born deliberately hobbled, 10 years later it's a halfway decent clearinghouse for records, but it has been a dismal failure as an enforcer of campaign laws. According to a report by Campaigns for People, the TEC has never initiated an investigation, never audited a candidate's. campaign records, never made a criminal refetral, and never subpoenaed a witness or a document. In its entire existence it has held only one formal public enforcement action, and on a minor matter at that. It's not surprising the TEC is moribund, since in order to initiate an enforcement action, six of the eight members of the commission must vote in favor. Environmental Defense's one of the first commissioners on the TEC, but after several years: of frustration; he stepped down. "I saw this as a chance to fundamentally change the state from one run by a bunch of good old boys to one where we actually can have good government," he recalls. "But a number of commissioners saw their jobs as protecting the institution that appointed them." The problems don't stop there. In order to shield those under investigation, the entire enforcement process is confidential, unless the information is already public or a formal hearing is held, which almost never happens. What's worse, a breach of confidentiality on the part of the TEC staff can bring a more severe penaltya Class A Misdemeanorthan a violation of the ethics law itself. The result is to stymie the staff, who refuse to conduct interviews for fear of breaching the confidentiality provision. As Texans for Public Justice demonstrated in a recent report, campaign loans continue to be abused by candidates. Politicians take out loans, often from themselves, to finance their campaigns and then once in office shake down special interests \(for up to $250,000 for statewide candidates and off. Ten years ago,. the Ethics Commission was charged with recommending repayment limits for legislative candidates, but it never followed through. Another of the TEC's duties was to suggest salary increases for the legislators, which it also failed to do. Campaigns for People is urging a number of necessary reforms, such as letting staff initiate investigations, eliminating the confidentiality provisions, instituting random audits, removing the board from enforcement actions, and increasing the budget. The Sunset Commission's preliminary report echoes some of this, although it does not go far enough. "We both agree that the car does not run," says Fred Lewis, president of Campaigns for People. "The difference is that they think it needs a tune-up and I think it needs a new engine." JB EDITORIAL A Dog Not Allowed to Hunt 4112102 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3
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