December 20, 2007
One Man In Clear Lake Is Overseeing The Texas Ethics Commission

No, it's not the head of the Texas Ethics Commission, it's Clear Lake activist John Cobarruvias who has been the TEC watchdog for about a year and a half. Out of curiosity, he looked in the campaign spending habits of one officeholder. What he found was so astonishing, it caused him to look into the spending side of campaign finance reports of many other Texas legislators and state-wide officials.

Here's the deal. The Legislature passed laws, which the TEC is supposed to enforce, that are very clear - all expenditures made by the candidate or office holder are to be transparent. Credit card expenses have to be detailed as to vendor, description and date of purchase. Reimbursements to self or staff have to be spelled out. It's not enough to put on the report, "Dan Patrick, $5000, reimbursement." He would have to detail what he spent that $5000 on. Not to mention, you are not supposed to use your campaign cash for personal use.

KHOU did a story at 10 pm last night on Cobarruvias' efforts and the complete ineffectiveness and worthlessness of the Texas Ethics Commission. The story and video and up on their website.

The gist of the story is that if Cobarruvias had not taken it upon himself to look into the Ethics Commission - uncovering the several million dollars in violations over a two year period - and getting a team of activists to file complaints on the violators - all of the illegal activity would still be going on - the credit card expenditure problems, reimbursements to self and staff, and personal use of campaign cash.

You are wondering, isn't it the Ethics Commission job to audit campaign finance reports, assess fines on violators and enforce the laws? Well, they act like they can't audit reports. They'll tell you it is up to someone to file a complaint before they can look into an alleged violation. But, that is just not true. This from the Government Code dealing with the TEC:

ยง 571.069. Review of Statements and Reports; Audits

(a) The commission shall review for facial compliance randomly selected statements and reports filed with the commission and may review any available documents. The commission shall return for resubmission with corrections or additional documentation a statement or report that does not, in the opinion of the commission, comply with the law requiring the statement or report.

One moment of hilarity from the KHOU story. Lee McGuire, the KHOU reporter, learned from the Ethics Commission that they had levied $700,000 in fines last year. Digging deeper, he discovered that all but $22,000 of that were fines assessed for candidates filing their reports late. Good on them, but the expectation is that officeholders and candidates are accountable for following ALL the ethics laws, not just filing on time.

The good news is that a lot of this mess has been cleared up. A review of the January 07 and July 07 campaign finance reports show that the word has gotten out that unless the laws are followed, you will have a complaint filed against you.

Someone explain to me why a state commission with a $2 million annual budget, has to count on a guy from Clear Lake to do their auditing work for them - for free?

Posted by Martha Griffin on December 20, 2007 to That's our Lege

"Someone explain to me why a state commission with a $2 million annual budget, has to count on a guy from Clear Lake to do their auditing work for them - for free?"

Because like all our state commissions, they protect those who they are supposed to be protecting the public from. Consumer protection in this state, in other words, is really protection from consumers.

Given the amount of fines for late filings, apparently the politicians consider it a joke. It is.

Posted by: Baby Snooks on December 20, 2007 1:29 PM

And - no surprise - they pay those late fees out of what? Campaign cash.

Posted by: Martha Griffin on December 20, 2007 6:45 PM