Lax Texas laws allow cozy lobbyist-lawmaker ties - KSWO 7News | Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Lax Texas laws allow cozy lobbyist-lawmaker ties

Austin_Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick does business with a lobbyist, but can't say whom. Fellow Rep. Sid Miller finally disclosed his lobbyist dealings, but only after someone complained.

And then there are Reps. Kino Flores and Jim Murphy: Their day jobs intersect with state government interests, but their state disclosure forms don't say that.

The four state legislators are not the only Texas part-time politicians whose personal business interests have sparked scrutiny.

Some legislators take jobs that coincide with state business, a link government watchdog groups say creates conflicts of interest that should at least be fully disclosed, if not barred outright.

"The ethics laws in Texas and other states are there so that people can decide whether these elected officials are acting in our best interest or in their own best interest," said Jennifer Peebles of Texas Watchdog, a nonpartisan group focusing on government transparency and ethics. "In these cases it sounds like the public doesn't know anything about it."

Craddick, a Republican who wields tremendous influence in state government, revealed in recent disclosure filings that he and a registered lobbyist have common business interests. The law requires he list the company involved - in this case a development company. But Craddick isn't required to name the lobbyist. And his spokeswoman, Alexis DeLee, said Craddick doesn't know who it is.

"The speaker does not know who it is. Therefore there is no conflict of interest," DeLee said.

Miller, a Republican, has ownership in a political and commercial phone bank company that was co-founded by lobbyist and consultant Todd Smith.

More than half of Miller's campaign expenditures since 2000 - $576,000 - have gone to Smith, and some of that went into one of the companies they both own shares in.

Miller and Smith's business relationship isn't illegal but he's supposed to disclose it - and didn't. Miller corrected his disclosure forms on Sept. 25, the day after a supporter of his Democratic opponent signed a complaint filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.

"It was an oversight," Miller told The Associated Press. "I'm not perfect."

Smith said he saw no conflict in a lawmaker paying a consultant who invested in the same company with the lawmaker while lobbying the Legislature.

Craig Holman of the liberal watchdog group Public Citizen called the failure to provide details of lawmaker-lobbyists deals "almost pathetic."

"If there is an actual business relationship between a lawmaker and a lobbyist and that relationship does not get disclosed to the public, that just cries for resolution," he said. "That is a major problem."

An Austin grand jury slammed the state's weak disclosure rules in 2006. The panel complained that it couldn't get to the bottom of corruption allegations against an unnamed "high-profile" public official because of toothless Texas ethics laws.

The panel highlighted a controversial but common - and legal - practice: listing self-employment as an occupation without specifying clients or major sources of income.

Flores, a Democrat, told AP he has worked as a management consultant for the last 10 years for D. Wilson Construction. At least two of D. Wilson's state contracts were made possible by legislation Flores sponsored, records show.

Flores saw no conflict because the law doesn't require that he list individual clients or major sources of income. And he hasn't done so since 2006, records show.

Non-employee status was cited by another legislator, Murphy, a Republican

Murphy serves both as a state legislator and general manager of the Westchase District, a state-created economic development agency that has the power to levy property-tax assessments on commercial property. But his financial disclosure lists Murphy's employer as District Management Services, a consulting business.

Though the state constitution prohibits legislators from collecting pay from two state entities, Murphy said an attorney general's opinion blesses the arrangement as long as he is considered a contractor and not an actual employee.

Murphy makes $240,000 a year from the Westchase District, and $7,200 a year as a state representative.

Murphy said he sees no conflict in working for two state entities but would support enhanced disclosure in the Legislature.

"I'm a pretty big fighter for accountability and transparency," he said.

Jay Root, AP Writer © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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