Sunday, June 14, 2015

Politicians want full disclosure from poor people, but not themselves...

Once again it appears the Legislature has taken two steps backward on ethics as it applies to them.  

It seems the Legislature wants full disclosure about whether or not poor people took advantage of Obama Care in a way similar to ancient history where wrongdoers were branded with an “S” on their foreheads which became known as the “scarlet letter.”  The Legislature overwhelmingly passed a requirement that people who were furnished coverage through Obama Care would have a set of numbers placed on their health cards identifying them as “Obama Care” recipients.  Ostensibly, this is so doctors would know whether or not to take that insurance.  I wonder if this measure was passed hoping doctors would refuse the insurance so acquired as the state has turned down the several billion dollars we could have gotten for implementing a decent program for poor people.

During this same session, the Legislature quickly killed any measure which would have required identification of secret groups which might have given money to slush funds for the members of the Legislature or other politicians—better known as “dark money.”  

Senator Huffman, Chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, pushed through two anti-ethics measures through her committee this session.  First of all, Senator Huffman decided she couldn't trust the public integrity unit of the Travis County District Attorney, so she passed legislation handing off investigation of any wrongdoing of an Austin politician to the Texas Rangers.  It’s doubtful any powerful senator or member of the Legislature, or even governor, would worry a lot about being investigated by an entity which wholly depends on legislative appropriations for the salaries of its members.  Even worse, if the Rangers find wrongdoing, they have to refer it to the politician’s home prosecutor to decide whether or not to prosecute.  Most of the senators, representatives and governors I have known in the past have a cozy relationship with their local folks back home.  It sure seems to me such a procedural scam will not lead to many indictments or convictions.

Currently, Texas law requires that officeholders file an annual financial report.  One purpose of this requirement is to tell voters whether or not there is a potential conflict of interest when acting in an official capacity. Senator Huffman passed a bill which is a step backwards in transparency of government.  Her bill provides that if property is in the spouse's name, it is not necessary to include that property on a politician's financial disclosure.  Texas being a community property state, no matter which spouse's name appears on the title of property, it is community property unless it is inherited or the result of a gift.  Therefore, even if property is in a spouse's name, one-half of it belongs to the politician.  Even if the property in question is the separate property of the non-serving spouse, income from it becomes communal and thereby benefits the officeholder.  This bill robs citizens of the ability to know whether or not the officeholder has a potential conflict of interest or receives benefit from a business not favored by voters. 

I suspect this legislation was prompted by the fact that a couple of our state officials have conveniently forgotten to list community property on their financial disclosure and were reprimanded by the state’s ethics commission.

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