April 06, 2006
Burnam files suit against Ethics Commission

State Rep. Lon Burnam has filed suit against the Texas Ethics Commission after its ridiculous ruling that bankrupt former TRMPAC treasurer and current State Employees Retirement System board member Bill Ceverha did not have to disclose how much money he received as a gift from Republican benefactor Bob Perry.

“The Ethics Commission has grossly misinterpreted the law,” said Burnam, D-Fort Worth. “If politicians or state officials receive huge gifts, the public has a right to know the amount, and the law requires the official to reveal it.”

At issue was a check from Houston home builder Bob Perry to former state Rep. Bill Ceverha, who serves on the state employee retirement system’s board of directors. On the financial disclosure statement that officials are required to fill out, Ceverha listed the 2004 gift as “check,” but did not say how much the check was for.

During a closed-door hearing March 27, the ethics panel ruled that Ceverha was not compelled by law to give any additional details.

Ceverha, a Dallas Republican and a confidante of Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, confirmed Wednesday that the check was for $50,000 and that he had received another $50,000 check from Perry in January.

“We decided to disclose it because it had gotten to be a big ongoing flap over nothing,” Ceverha said. “The Democrats keep pounding away trying to make everything a partisan issue.”

How is it partisan to note that there's a world of difference between reporting that you got a "check" and reporting that you got two checks totally $100,000? This isn't a check you got from your Aunt Polly in a birthday card, it's a check from one of the biggest political donors in the state. If there's nothing untoward about him helping out a friend in debt, why not be up front about it from the get go?

Bob Perry's response, from this AP story, is equally laughable.

Perry and Ceverha provided identical letters from Perry that accompanied the checks, dated Sept. 8, 2004, and Jan. 27, 2005. The letters describe a $50,000 gift with no strings attached but state that Perry assumes the money would go toward legal fees and that "no contribution to any candidate or political action committee ... will be made or will result as a consequence of your personal use of these funds."

Following Wednesday's newspaper report, the Texas Democratic Party issued a statement saying it's difficult to believe such a large sum of money had no strings attached.

"Given the pay-to-play Republican style of politics that is ruling our state, the question should be raised: What did Bob Perry get for his $100,000 investment?" Texas Democratic Party spokeswoman Amber Moon said.

Perry spokesman Anthony Holm said the Houston homebuilder has "zero interest" in the state retirement system and viewed the check to Ceverha as charitable giving.

"Both men have chosen to operate above and beyond what the law requires. Mr. Perry has always respected open government," Holm said.

He has a funny way of showing that. If he really wants to go "above and beyond", it should have never entered his mind that his most generous gift be reported as anything but exactly what it was. Letting it be described as "check" and doing nothing to change that until the heat got turned up is being a weasel. Simple as that.

Burnam's statement on the suit is here (PDF). The TEC needs to enforce its rules in a manner consistent with common sense and legislative intent. I hope this suit gets their attention.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 06, 2006 to Scandalized! | TrackBack