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.
State lawmakers' personal financial statements for the 2012 calendar year were due April 30, but several lawmakers filed for extensions. As for the 115 lawmakers who did file, the Tribune has you covered. Use our Ethics Explorer to see what lawmakers disclosed in their most recent filings. Full Story
UPDATED: A divisive measure requiring the disclosure of certain unreported political donors passed the House on a 95-52 vote on Tuesday with little of Monday's debate. The measure now heads to Gov. Rick Perry. Full Story
A transparency bill that would require lobbyists to disclose the names of lawmakers who pay them using campaign funds for services, including political consulting, is headed to Gov. Rick Perry's desk. Full Story
UPDATED: Rep. Giovanni Capriglione's bill to require legislators to disclose their business contracts with government entities won't get a vote in the House — unless he can tack it onto an Ethics Commission reform bill. Full Story
With just four weeks remaining in the legislative session, there has been little to no pressure from the top — including key committee chairs — to pass measures that would force greater transparency upon Texas’ elected officials. Full Story
State lawmakers have talked a big game this year on transparency and ethics, but with less than a month to go in the 83rd legislative session, the bills they’ve filed haven’t made much progress. Use our interactive to see where they stand. Full Story
Giving up 20 weeks of every other year to serve in the Texas Legislature is a lot easier if you don't have to worry about the paycheck you're missing at home. It is easier, in other words, if you're rich. Full Story
The oil industry vigorously opposed efforts to list the threatened dunes sagebrush lizard as an endangered species. But three oil company lobbyists were given day-to-day oversight of the effort to save the reptile. Full Story
Politically active nonprofits, which are playing an increasingly important role in state elections, would no longer be able to hide the identity of their major donors under a bill making its way through the Texas Legislature. Full Story
The obscure law that allows Gov. Rick Perry to collect both his pension and salary was the subject of a hearing Monday. A proposed bill would prevent future state officeholders from using the provision. Full Story
Lawmakers started the legislative session talking about changes they would like to make in the state's ethics laws. Now — and it is not the first time — they're sending some of the most delicate items back for more study. Full Story
Lawmakers spend thousands of dollars from their campaign accounts to supplement the salaries of their staffs. It’s a legal and long-standing practice, but some ethics experts say it presents the potential for conflict. Full Story
Ahead of the 83rd legislative session, the state’s 10 leading health care associations gave more than $4.6 million to Texas candidates. This interactive shows how much — and to whom — health care associations donated in 2011 and 2012. Full Story
Many lawmakers are quick to name the sacrifices they make to serve. But life in the Lege is not half bad. The perks associated with the job — from exotic trips to luxury gifts — can dramatically augment their lifestyles. Full Story
With the addition of more than a dozen statewide elected officials to our Lawmaker Explorer — including Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs and the state's railroad commissioners and Supreme Court justices — we're renaming it the Ethics Explorer. Full Story