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.
As state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, detailed his objections to House Bill 5 on Tuesday, what he did not mention is that whether students enroll in challenging courses and the number of state exams they must take could affect his livelihood. Full Story
This session’s effort to make state government more transparent and ethical — spearheaded by some of the Legislature’s most conservative members and its most liberal ones — has attracted the strangest of bedfellows. Full Story
Texas Supreme Court justices are elected by voters, and the campaign contributions they receive from law firms with an interest in their decisions have caused some to worry that justice is for sale. Full Story
Since relinquishing their seats in January, 11 former House members and one former state senator have registered as lobbyists with the Texas Ethics Commission — and several of them are working for clients in industries they regulated in the Legislature. Full Story
Rep. Giovanni Capriglione got a rude awakening in his transparency bill's hearing before the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday when members suggested his legislation was a political "vendetta." Full Story
In an effort to prevent the perception of conflicts of interest, faculty in the University of Texas System could soon be subject to more robust public disclosure requirements than lawmakers and even university system regents. Full Story
Texas' founders wanted a part-time Legislature with no room for full-time politicians. But paltry state pay means today's lawmakers must hold full-time jobs elsewhere — narrowing the ranks of likely officeholders to those who can afford to do it. Full Story
Texas' public pension systems — including the one state lawmakers pay into — have an airtight exemption from the landmark 1973 sunshine law that was designed to let taxpayers known how public money is being spent. But some lawmakers want to change that. Full Story
In a state capital where moving from the Legislature to the lobby — and, sometimes, the other way — is unremarkable, it’s also common to find the relatives of lawmakers lobbying the state government. Full Story
While members of the Texas Legislature can no longer act as lobbyists before state agencies, plenty of lawmakers still manage to lobby local governments. Others find work that critics would classify as lobbying by another name. Full Story
Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, and Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, both filed legislation on Thursday that would require personal financial statements submitted to the Texas Ethics Commission to be made available online. Full Story
The last substantial Texas ethics reforms passed during the 72nd legislative session. It wasn't easy then — and won't be easy now. But members pushing for new rules say they're optimistic that their colleagues will support making the state's business more transparent. Full Story
Texas' financial disclosure practices for lawmakers may not be as thorough as ethics experts would like them to be. But the path Texas has taken to reach its guidelines puts it ahead of many other states. Use our interactive to see how Texas stacks up. Full Story
The new chairman and vice chairman of the Texas Ethics Commission board on the state’s disclosure rules, their efforts to prioritize certain types of ethics complaints and the reforms they anticipate in the 83rd legislative session. Full Story
From Gov. James "Pa" Ferguson's impeachment to the Sharpstown scandal, Texas has weathered mighty ethics controversies. Despite reforms, the Legislature still faces criticism over lax disclosure rules and ties with lobbyists. Full Story
The Texas Ethics Commission's board has approved an advisory opinion that stops short of recommending against lawmakers soliciting contributions for nonprofit organizations they are employed by. Full Story