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.