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 Texas Ethics Commission’s board convenes Thursday to choose new leadership for 2013. But before that happens, its commissioners will review an ethics opinion they did not agree on two months ago. Full Story
Politicians love transparency right now — or love to talk about it. But some of their efforts at providing it aren't clear, and some that are clear aren't timely. Some public records just aren't readily available to the public. Full Story
The common practice of lawmakers carrying bills or serving on committees that could directly affect their lives or livelihoods is permitted, so long as their efforts benefit all others in similar circumstances. But it still has vocal critics. Full Story
Lobbyists are competitive creatures, and don't like it when somebody gets an advantage — like political consultants who lobby during the political off-season. But they haven't found a way to regulate the practice. Full Story
Ethics reformers are looking to overhaul the personal financial statements state lawmakers must file. The form doesn’t ask for much detail, hasn’t been updated in years and has led to confusion and varying interpretations about what must be revealed. Full Story
Thanks to his state pension — the subject of double-dipping controversy — and the sale of an interest in gas wells, Gov. Rick Perry got a pay bump in 2011, according to tax returns he provided to the Tribune. Full Story
It's been a long time since the Legislature took a good, hard look at its ethics laws and its own practices. With the Texas Ethics Commission up for review, a restive electorate and a herd of new lawmakers, they have a golden opportunity. Full Story
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Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, served 10 years in the Texas House before becoming the longest-serving member of the Texas Senate. Here's a photographic look back at the dean of the Senate's 40 years in elected office in Texas. Full Story
Critics say the dean of the Texas Senate, John Whitmire, D-Houston, is a poster boy for a legislative culture in which real and perceived conflicts of interest are commonplace. Whitmire says he's proud of his four decades in office. Full Story
The Texas Ethics Commission stands poised for change during the 83rd legislative session. But any efforts to reform it will face a challenge, because the lawmakers the commission was set up to regulate are the ones setting the rules. Full Story
UPDATED: State Sen. Wendy Davis has filed companion legislation to a House bill from two freshman legislators — one on the far right, the other on the far left — that would expand the requirements of the state’s personal financial disclosure form. Full Story
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The Tribune asked all 180 current members of the Legislature to provide their last three tax returns — and got few takers. Most lawmakers either ignored the request or said they weren’t comfortable with that level of disclosure. Full Story
The Lawmaker Explorer is a first-of-its-kind interactive tool that gives Texans a window into the personal interests of their state legislators. It is the linchpin of the Tribune's Bidness as Usual project, a session-long look at ethics and transparency in the Texas Legislature. Full Story
Twenty journalists have spent nine months researching the personal financial interests of members of the 83rd Legislature. Eyebrows — and hackles — may be raised, but this kind of transparency is good for Texas. Full Story
With a lacking conflict disclosure system, virtually toothless ethics laws and a Legislature historically unwilling to make itself more transparent, Texans know little about who or what influences the people elected to represent them. Full Story