February 23, 2017 •

Austin City Council Exempts Itself From Ethics Review

This month, the Austin City Council unanimously voted to exempt City Council and their staff from being subject to punishment for interference with personnel matters with a clause in the city charter aimed at preventing elected officials from pressuring city […]

Austin, Texas City HallThis month, the Austin City Council unanimously voted to exempt City Council and their staff from being subject to punishment for interference with personnel matters with a clause in the city charter aimed at preventing elected officials from pressuring city staff to go against their professional and unbiased judgment in making official decisions.

This vote came one year after City Council asked for amendments to the city code to give the City’s Ethics Review Commission authority over the interference clause which were unanimously approved in November 2016.

Under the new ordinance approved this month, allegations of City Council ethics violations will go to the Auditor and Ethics Review Commission and any issues arising under the City Charter Clause will be decided by the Council and City Manager.

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February 10, 2017 •

Texas Ethics Reform Passes in Senate

Texas ethics overhaul, Senate Bill 14, passed unanimously in the Senate this week and is headed to the House. Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement praising the Senate’s swift movement, stating his confidence the comprehensive reforms will be passed. An […]

320px-TexasStateCapitol-2010-01Texas ethics overhaul, Senate Bill 14, passed unanimously in the Senate this week and is headed to the House.

Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement praising the Senate’s swift movement, stating his confidence the comprehensive reforms will be passed.

An identical bill, House bill 1238, as well as six separate back-up bills duplicating each of the six articles in the reform package, were filed to avoid replicating the failure of a large ethics reform package during the 2015 legislative session.

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January 27, 2017 •

Corpus Christi Mayor Resigns Triggering May 6 Special Election

A special election has been set for May 6, 2017, to fill the vacant seat for the Mayor of Corpus Christi, Texas. Dan McQueen, former mayor, resigned on January 18 after just 37 days in office. His resignation came after […]

DanMcQueenMayorA special election has been set for May 6, 2017, to fill the vacant seat for the Mayor of Corpus Christi, Texas.

Dan McQueen, former mayor, resigned on January 18 after just 37 days in office. His resignation came after being the subject of intense media scrutiny for criticizing city council and local media members on social media.

During such time, it was revealed that McQueen, who had no previous experience with public office, hired his live-in girlfriend as his chief of staff without disclosure to the city manager in direct conflict with the city’s policies.

Since McQueen’s resignation seven candidates have entered the mayoral race, including the City’s current Ethics Commissioner, Larry White.

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January 17, 2017 •

Corpus Christi Considering New Ethics Code Recommendations

Corpus Christi, Texas City Council will meet Tuesday to discuss new recommendations to the ethics code to further tighten rules for City Council members. The Council unanimously approved the new code during a first vote last week. If approved on […]

Flag_of_Corpus_Christi,_Texas.svgCorpus Christi, Texas City Council will meet Tuesday to discuss new recommendations to the ethics code to further tighten rules for City Council members. The Council unanimously approved the new code during a first vote last week.

If approved on the second vote, it will be formally adopted by City Council. If adopted, the modified code would ban council members from appointing people to city committees and boards if the appointee contributed more than $2,700 to the council member’s campaign in the previous election. This would not ban the contributor from appointment, but would require a council member who did not receive contributions meeting the threshold to appoint the person.

Additionally, the prospective code broadens who falls within what is called the circle of influence and indicates a conflict of interest if a person with a specific relationship to a council member would profit from a council member’s vote. The current circle of influence includes direct family members but could be expanded to cover employers of family members and household members if the new code is adopted.

 

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January 17, 2017 •

Texas Legislators Push for Ethics Reform

Legislators will attempt to pass a major ethics reform for the second time after their effort during the 2015 legislative session failed. The plan gained wide spread support in 2015 but was ultimately defeated in the House due to a […]

320px-TexasStateCapitol-2010-01Legislators will attempt to pass a major ethics reform for the second time after their effort during the 2015 legislative session failed. The plan gained wide spread support in 2015 but was ultimately defeated in the House due to a provision increasing donor disclosure requirements for dark money groups.

The new reform package, Senate Bill 14, has four main provisions to:

  • Prohibit politicians convicted of felony corruption charges from collecting state pensions
  • Require disclosure if companies a lobbyist is tied to have received government contracts or served as bond counsel to a governmental entity
  • Decrease the amount of money lobbyists can spend on food and drinks for legislators without triggering disclosure
  • Ban registered lobbyists from running for elected office

Sen. Van Taylor who is sponsoring Senate Bill 14 has said reform is needed beyond the provisions of the reform package and will continue to file additional ethics bills. While Senate Bill 14 has not yet been filed, Taylor has filed Senate Bill 137 aiming to prohibit state agencies from using state funds to employ a person who is registered as a lobbyist or who engages in lobbying activities.

Gov. Greg Abbott supports the passage of an ethics package.

Photo of the Texas State Capitol By LoneStarMike via Wikimedia Commons

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December 30, 2016 •

Texas Ethics Commission Adopts New Lobbyist Registration Exception

This month, the Texas Ethics Commission adopted a new rule adjusting the compensation and reimbursement threshold for lobbyists. The new rule eliminates an exception not requiring a person to register as a lobbyist if he or she lobbied no more […]

TexasThis month, the Texas Ethics Commission adopted a new rule adjusting the compensation and reimbursement threshold for lobbyists.

The new rule eliminates an exception not requiring a person to register as a lobbyist if he or she lobbied no more than five percent of his or her compensated time during a calendar quarter. Under the new rule exception, a person is not required to register as a lobbyist if the person spends not more than 40 hours during a calendar quarter engaging in lobbying activity for which the person is compensated or reimbursed.Time spent on preparatory activity is included in determining whether the 40-hour threshold has been met.

This rule goes into effect January 1, 2017.

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November 2, 2016 •

Texas Representative Announces 2017 Resignation if Elected on Nov. 8

Texas State House District 118 Rep. Dawnna Dukes announced she will resign January 10, 2017, citing health issues stemming from a 2013 car accident. Dukes is running for a 12th term and will remain on the November ballot. If she […]

Dawnna DukesTexas State House District 118 Rep. Dawnna Dukes announced she will resign January 10, 2017, citing health issues stemming from a 2013 car accident.

Dukes is running for a 12th term and will remain on the November ballot. If she is successful in the general election, the seat will remain vacant until a special election is called next year. Her Republican opponent is calling for an immediate resignation to eliminate the possibility of the district’s residents remaining unrepresented for months.

The resignation comes amidst allegations and an investigation regarding her alleged use of state resources for non-governmental purposes. The current allegations are the most recent in a string of ethics and campaign finance controversies throughout her 22-year career.

Photo of Rep. Dawnna Dukes courtesy of the Texas House of Representatives website.

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October 20, 2016 •

Dallas County, TX Approves New Purchasing Manual

County commissioners approved a new purchasing manual to ensure consistency and avoid impropriety within the county’s contracting process. A new hiring manager was brought in last year to overhaul a Purchasing Department troubled for years with allegations of political meddling. […]

flag_of_dallas_county_texasCounty commissioners approved a new purchasing manual to ensure consistency and avoid impropriety within the county’s contracting process.

A new hiring manager was brought in last year to overhaul a Purchasing Department troubled for years with allegations of political meddling.

Pursuant to the new manual, the Commissioners Court will still approve contracts handled by the Purchasing Department, but will be unable to override the department’s vendor choices. These changes are the latest in a series of improvements following the federal indictment of a county commissioner for rigging bids and accepting kickbacks in 2014.

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September 26, 2016 •

Changes to Austin, Texas, Lobbying Law Effective June 1, 2017

On September 22, an ordinance revising the lobbying law for the city of Austin, Texas, was approved by the City Council. The new law repeals and replaces Chapter 4-8 of the city’s code relating to the regulation of lobbyists. The […]

Coat_of_arms_of_Austin,_Texas.svgOn September 22, an ordinance revising the lobbying law for the city of Austin, Texas, was approved by the City Council.

The new law repeals and replaces Chapter 4-8 of the city’s code relating to the regulation of lobbyists.

The ordinance, which was to have taken take effect on January 1, 2017, was amended before passing and will now take effect on June 1, 2017.

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September 19, 2016 •

Texas Ethics Commission Requests Funding for Future Litigation

Today, the Texas Ethics Commission will ask the Legislative Budget Board for an increase in appropriations to fund possible future litigation, according to the San Antonio Express News. The Ethics Commission is unsure if Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office will […]

TexasToday, the Texas Ethics Commission will ask the Legislative Budget Board for an increase in appropriations to fund possible future litigation, according to the San Antonio Express News.

The Ethics Commission is unsure if Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office will defend the agency in future litigation, according to the commission’s appropriations request. In April, the attorney general’s office refused to provide legal representation for the commission in a lawsuit challenging a law prohibiting the use of audio and video recordings from the House and Senate floors being used in political advertising, according to the News.

In the request, the commission states, “The Commission does not know whether future requests for representation will be declined by the Office of the Attorney General and wants to be financially prepared to retain outside counsel to defend the constitutionality of laws passed by the legislature.”

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September 12, 2016 •

Criminal Complaint Filed Against Former Texas Ethics Commissioner

On September 8, a 101-page sworn criminal complaint was filed against a former Texas Ethics Commissioner. Michael Quinn Sullivan filed the complaint against Tom Harrison with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, according to The Lead. Harrison, who resigned this […]

Texas Capitol RotundaOn September 8, a 101-page sworn criminal complaint was filed against a former Texas Ethics Commissioner. Michael Quinn Sullivan filed the complaint against Tom Harrison with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, according to The Lead.

Harrison, who resigned this year from the Ethics Commission, is alleged by Sullivan to have violated state bribery laws while he was a commissioner. Sullivan is president of Empower Texans, a nonprofit organization created to encourage governmental fiscal responsibility, according to the organization’s website.

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September 1, 2016 •

Austin, Texas Campaign Finance Disclosure Amendments Take Effect

On September 1, new provisions in the city of Austin’s campaign finance laws take effect. Ordinance No. 20160623-020 increases disclosure requirements for nonprofits and independent groups making political contributions or expenditures in excess of $500. These organizations are required to […]

Coat_of_arms_of_Austin,_Texas.svgOn September 1, new provisions in the city of Austin’s campaign finance laws take effect.

Ordinance No. 20160623-020 increases disclosure requirements for nonprofits and independent groups making political contributions or expenditures in excess of $500. These organizations are required to report the identities of who contributed to them unless the donation was directed to not be used for political purposes. Contributions for investments and commercial transactions also do not require disclosure of the contributor.

Another part of the ordinance, not effective until February 1, 2017, requires intermediaries transferring more than $500 for political campaign purposes to disclose details of the transfers, including the occupation and employer of the person making the transfer and the purpose and description of each transfer.

The coat of arms of Austin, Texas by Glasshouse on Wikimedia Commons.

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August 23, 2016 •

Austin, TX Moves Closer to New Lobbying Law

On August 18, an ordinance revising the lobbying law for the city of Austin, Texas, met with preliminary approval from the City Council. The new proposed law repeals and replaces Chapter 4-8 of the city’s code relating to the regulation […]

Austin, Texas at nightOn August 18, an ordinance revising the lobbying law for the city of Austin, Texas, met with preliminary approval from the City Council. The new proposed law repeals and replaces Chapter 4-8 of the city’s code relating to the regulation of lobbyists.

The draft ordinance was approved on a first reading only and will require at least two more approvals from the City Council to become law. The City Council is next meeting again on September 1, but the proposed ordinance is not yet on the council’s agenda for that date. The ordinance may be addressed later in the year following the adoption of the city budget in mid-September, according to the Austin Monitor.

If passed as currently drafted, the new ordinance would take effect on January 1, 2017.

Photo of the Austin, Texas skyline by Argash on Wikimedia Commons.

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July 21, 2016 •

Austin, TX Campaign Contribution Blackout Period Ruled Unconstitutional

On July 20, a federal court ruled the city of Austin’s campaign contribution blackout period unconstitutional. The blackout period allowed officeholders, candidates, and their respective committees to only accept campaign contributions during the last 180 days before an election or […]

AustinOn July 20, a federal court ruled the city of Austin’s campaign contribution blackout period unconstitutional. The blackout period allowed officeholders, candidates, and their respective committees to only accept campaign contributions during the last 180 days before an election or recall election. In Zimmerman v. City of Austin, Texas, the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, concluded the law was unconstitutional under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In addition, the court found an Austin City Charter provision designating a 90-day requirement for campaign account terminations to be unconstitutional.

District Court Judge Lee Yeakel did uphold the city’s contribution limits for mayoral and city council candidates, finding the limit a constitutional regulation of protected First Amendment activity. The ruling also found City Councilman Don Zimmerman, who originally brought the lawsuit last summer, did not have standing to challenge the aggregate limits of the total contributions a candidate can accept from sources other than natural persons eligible to vote in a postal zip code completely or partially within the Austin city limits.

Photo of Austin, Texas by Eric A. Ellison on Wikimedia Commons.

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