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, Texans know exceedingly little about who or what influences the people elected to represent them. And 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 Texas Tribune’s Bidness As Usual Project — an extensive reporting and data venture that spanned the 2013 legislative session — looked at these lawmakers and the ethics rules that govern them, addressing issues like conflicts of interest and breaches in public accountability.
In addition to dozens of stories analyzing everything from individual lawmakers’ personal interests to the state’s disclosure forms and ethics laws, the project included the Texas Tribune Ethics Explorer.
This interactive tool was designed to educate citizens on the degree to which legislators’ personal interests conflicted with the public interest when passing bills and setting policy. It included extensive research into all 180 members of the Texas Legislature, plus the governor and lieutenant governor, and provided details on a lawmaker’s employment history and financial records, stock holdings, property listings, campaign finance data and ethics investigations. The Explorer was created with the generous support of the Fund for Investigative Journalism.
The open government track at the 2014 Texas Tribune Festival featured panel discussions on what legislators should disclose, open records, state budget transparency and "dark money" vs. donor privacy. Full Story
We're liveblogging the sessions from the 2014 Texas Tribune Festival's Open Government track. The sessions include panels on disclosures by legislators, open records in Texas, transparency and the Texas budget, and the issue of donor privacy. Full Story
In the great-news-to-wake-up-to department, we've been honored by Investigative Reporters and Editors with the "Gannett Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism" for our livestream, our Ethics Explorer and our Bidness as Usual series. Full Story
We've expanded the officials in our Ethics Explorer to include the judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the members of the State Board of Education. We've also updated our existing analysis on members of the Legislature. Full Story
We've added Texas' congressional delegation to our Ethics Explorer, an interactive tool to help educate citizens on the degree to which elected officials’ personal interests conflict with the public interest when passing bills and setting policy. Full Story
Texas voters are concerned about public ethics, and about some of the issues that have attached to the governor over the last 12 years — but they're partisan about it, and that has made all the difference for Rick Perry. Full Story
A vote by the Texas Legislature to raise state district judges' salaries will benefit lawmakers whose state pensions are based on the judges' salaries. Among those benefiting are 10 members of Texas' congressional delegation. Full Story
Over the course of the 83rd legislative session, we produced more than 60 articles on ethics and transparency among the state's elected officials. We've turned the "Bidness as Usual" project into a free e-book. Full Story
Texans strongly favor criminal and mental health background checks on all gun sales, and they are divided when it comes to concealed weapons on college campuses, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Full Story
When it came to passing major ethics reforms that would have increased transparency for elected officials, the 83rd Legislature didn't make much headway. Lawmakers, it seems, didn't have the appetite for increased public disclosure. Full Story
Whether they have a longstanding interest or are branching into new territory, some of the state's top political donors advocate for education issues. Use our interactive to track contributions to lawmakers who make decisions affecting Texas schools. Full Story
From protecting endangered lizards to changing industry standards on fracking, energy and environmental groups have many competing interests in Texas. Use this interactive to track campaign contributions by some of the most influential such groups and donors. Full Story
Sen. John Carona remains a political maverick in the Texas Legislature, willing to stand alone in policy fights and raise money for Democrats, despite conservative grassroots pressure to conform to stricter ideology. Full Story
UPDATED: State Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, again attempted to add a measure decoupling legislators' pensions from judges' pay. But the amendment to Senate Bill 1459 was defeated Tuesday. Full Story
Many of the residents of Sun City Shadow Hills near Palm Springs say they're being overcharged and hit with unfair penalties by their HOA. They have the company run by state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, in their crosshairs. Full Story
UPDATED: Facing a laundry list of record votes, lawmakers tacked on several amendments to an Ethics Commission reform bill on Monday that would strengthen the disclosure rules that govern them and their contributors. Full Story
The constitutional provision of a part-time Legislature whose members have full-time jobs back home blurs the line between public responsibilities and personal ambition — as the story of a certain powerful state senator illustrates. Full Story