Ethics Bill Would Shed Light on Contracts

State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, a leading advocate of ethics reform in the notoriously unrestrained Texas Legislature, filed legislation Tuesday designed to shed more light on lawmakers who make money off of government contracts.

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione R-Soutlake waits to testify during a March 14th House Homeland Security & Public Safety committee hearing.

State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, a leading advocate of ethics reform in the notoriously unrestrained Texas Legislature, filed legislation Tuesday designed to shed more light on lawmakers who make money off government contracts.

One bill, identical to legislation the Southlake Republican couldn’t get through the House two years ago, requires state elected officials to disclose government contracts in which they or a close family member have a substantial financial interest. 

The other bill takes a different tack. Rather than forcing lawmakers to add information to their personal disclosure forms — an idea that hit turbulence last session — it would require governmental entities to reveal all “interested parties’’ in their contracts. 

Capriglione said his legislation is modeled in part after federal contracting guidelines, and is aimed at ensuring voters can find out whether their lawmakers are enmeshed in conflicts of interest the public should know about. He’s also hoping it will sidestep concerns from colleagues about new and potentially burdensome disclosure requirements. 

“I think that this might be another way to get the same sort of information available to the public, and maybe in a way that is a little more palatable to legislators,” Capriglione told The Texas Tribune. “Just tell us who is making the money.”

The bill would require governmental entities — defined as a municipality, county, school district or special purpose district or authority — to reveal all interested parties who stand to benefit financially from a contract approved by the governing body. Interested parties would include a broker, intermediary, lawyer or adviser. It would also apply to state agency contracts of $1 million or more. 

That information would be forwarded to the Texas Ethics Commission and made available to the public, allowing voters to see if their lawmakers are scoring a big pay day at City Hall, a state agency or some other governmental body.

Under the state’s lax ethics laws, lawmakers can easily profit from government contracts without explicitly disclosing it to voters. 

The Republican lawmaker whom Capriglione defeated in the GOP primary in 2012, then-Rep. Vicki Truitt, was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to do consulting work for the Tarrant County Hospital District, according to published reports

On her 2010 personal financial statement, Truitt only had to list her consulting business, Physician Resource Network, and didn’t have to reveal to the Ethics Commission that the company contracted with a public entity. It’s a gigantic loophole that other Texas politicians have used, making it difficult for the public to know whether their legislator's ties to some business deal — or a government contract — might present a conflict of interest.

Truitt said at the time that her relationship with the hospital district pre-dated her service in the Legislature and did not conflict with her duties as a lawmaker. 

The issue also arose in the 2014 governor’s race, when Republican Greg Abbott accused his Democratic opponent, then-Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, of profiting off her service in the Legislature through contracts between her law firm and public entities. Davis said her work for public entities, including the North Texas Tollway Authority, did not conflict with her role as a senator.

Abbott, who trounced Davis in November and was sworn in as governor last month, proposed far-reaching ethics reforms on the campaign trail but hasn’t talked much about it since. His next big opportunity will likely come next week when he delivers his “state of the state” speech to the Legislature.