Bidness As Usual

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.

News App: Expanding the Ethics Explorer

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.

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Caleb Bryant Miller / Todd Wiseman

Video: Session of Transparency Fell Short

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.

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Graphic by Todd Wiseman

Interactive: Track Public Education Donors

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.

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Graphic by Todd Wiseman

Interactive: Track Energy and Environment Donors

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.

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Jeff Wilson for Texas Monthly

For John Carona, Conflicts and Interests

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.

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