T-Squared: It's Only Bidness

My favorite moment in the first Godfather movie is the one in which Tessio, one of the Corleone family's lieutenants, is revealed to have betrayed its interim leader, Michael Corleone. As he's led away to meet his ultimate fate, Tessio turns to the family's consigliere, Tom Hagen, and says: "Tell Mike it was only business. I liked him."

That's my message today and going forward to the members of the Legislature who run smack into our massive "Bidness as Usual" project, with its sundry revelations about their personal financial interests, and feel targeted or attacked: We like you, but this is business.

From the day the Tribune launched in November 2009, our mission has been, at least in large part, to provide greater transparency on the inner workings of state goverment — and that includes, and in fact requires, greater transparency on the whys and wherefores of how elected officials ply their trade. We don't assume that lawmakers are pretending to act in the public's interest when they're really acting in their own, but it would nice to be able to tell, wouldn't it?

The reporting contained in today's Lawmaker Explorer data app, which took nine months to complete and reflects the impressive sweat and toil of 20 journalists plus our entire technology team, is derived from a variety of sources, as we explain here. In some instances we've scraped information from the disclosure forms filed by the elected officials themselves; in others, we've relied on the good work of our colleagues in the Capitol press corps; and in still others, we've augmented existing material with the by-product of our own shoe-leather investigating.

As the Trib's editor, Emily Ramshaw, who supervised the project and contributed reporting herself, explained in the table-setter we published on Jan. 13, "With a conflict disclosure system rife with holes, virtually toothless ethics laws often left to the interpretation of the lawmakers they are supposed to regulate, and a Legislature historically unwilling to make itself more transparent, the reality is Texans know exceedingly little about who or what influences the people elected to represent them. They have no way to differentiate between lawmakers motivated entirely by the interests of their constituents and those in it for their own enrichment."

The Bidness as Usual project, which will fully unfurl over the five months of the session, is an effort to rectify that, although it's sure to raise a few eyebrows — and hackles.

In particular, the app we launched today, which contains detailed data on all members of the Texas House and Senate plus the governor and lieutenant governor, is likely to occasion a phone call or two or, well, 181. That's fine. In fact, let me make it easy: My direct line at the office is 512-716-8610. Any irked party, or kin to one or employee of one, is welcome to call and complain, explain, correct an inadvertent error, add additional information, or pass along a tip worth looking into. Or email us at [email protected]

We welcome that kind of feedback; it makes the Trib better and, by extension, Texans smarter. Hopefully the invitation to talk back to us is an offer they can't refuse.

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