A bill has been filed to give the Texas Ethics Commission power to veto any investigation into electoral code violations by district attorneys.
Rep. Mary Denny, R–Aubrey, chairwoman of the House Elections Committee, would create an office under the state commission to conduct election code violation investigations such as Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle's two-year investigation of the Texas Association of Business, Texans for a Republican Majority and Craddick.
House Bill 913 would prohibit a prosecutor from pursuing charges if the state office determines there is no criminal offense.
Shannon Edmonds with the Texas District and County Attorneys Association said the group is taking a wait-and-see attitude on the legislation but added, "It seems to keep prosecutors from prosecuting crimes."
One, as the story notes, the Texas Ethics Commission doesn't have a whole lot of juice:
Craig McDonald with Texans for Public Justice said the Ethics Commission, appointed by state officials and split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, is not known for taking action against officials.
"I think it's incumbent politicians circling the wagons to protect themselves from prosecution," McDonald said. "It puts a roadblock in the way of local prosecutors, who should have a free hand in prosecuting violations of the law."
The Ethics Commission, created in 1991, has civil authority over election code violations and can refer criminal complaints to prosecutors. The agency, however, has never subpoenaed a witness or documents to investigate a complaint or referred a criminal case.
In addition to other penalties, a person who discloses
information made confidential by this section is civilly liable to
the respondent in an amount equal to the greater of $10,000 or the
amount of actual damages incurred by the respondent, including
court costs and attorney fees.
Point two is related to this. The TEC, which has the power to sanction wrongdoing by members of the Legislature, is funded by the Legislature. They fear, with some justification, biting the hand that feeds them. This makes them less than fully independent, and as such adding their oversight to this process would politicize it more, not less.
Finally, what other kind of criminal activity requires an outside body to approve an investigation by a DA's office? Shannon Edmonds got it in one - this is designed to hinder prosecutions. If the Lege doesn't like the laws that they themselves passed to regulate their own actions (and those of their colleagues in Congress), then they should move to change those laws. The reason they're not doing that is because they know full well it wouldn't be popular. This is the easy way out.
As I've said before, one can reasonably make the case that violations of the electoral code should be investigated and prosecuted by the Attorney General instead of 254 district attorneys. I'd be very wary of any such proposals at this time because of the obvious partisan connections to the ongoing TRM/TAB cases, but those concerns could be addressed. I see no value at all in this bill, and I hope it dies the quick death it deserves. Via The Daily DeLay.Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 10, 2005 to Scandalized! | TrackBack