We all have hobbies; mine is poking around State of Texas government websites.
If you are wondering why, it’s because as a kid, I always had an interest in illusions and magic. I even got to see David Copperfield perform once. Part of the fun was knowing he was trying to distract us to keep us from knowing what was really happening.
At least Copperfield was honest about his illusions. It was all fun and games, but it was not a con game. We bought tickets knowing full well that we were about to be tricked. In fact, that was the whole point.
But when the government uses sleight of hand and distraction to hide what they are doing, unmasking becomes a duty. As a side benefit, it is kind of fun exposing them for the frauds they so often are.
It is amazing what you can learn if you just know where to look.
This week, I was looking at the website of the Texas Ethics Commission, the repository of publicly available finance reports from our elected officials and the lobbyists who wine and dine them.
I had a chuckle when I saw its motto, “Promoting Public Confidence in Government.” After reviewing what I found, the only thing I felt more confident about was that perhaps the Commission should be renamed the Texas Commission of Unethical Behavior (TexCUB).
I found out that during a time when most Texans are struggling to make ends meet, there is one group of people that are flush with money. There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way, unless the method they use to obtain the money is illegal, immoral, or unethical.
Buried in the site were several things of interest, including that there are more than 1,500 registered lobbyists in the State of Texas. But what was stunning was the amount of money the lobbyists make plying their wares.
I want to introduce you to the top-earning lobbyist in Texas as an illustration of what I think is one of the biggest problems in our state.
During a time when the average Texan earns approximately $3,200 per month, this individual earned an average of between $212,639 and $319,306 per month for the last three years. You read that correctly. Not per year—per month.
When I first saw that, I thought it must be a mistake. Maybe I calculated it incorrectly. But, no. The numbers are correct.
The reason for the range as opposed to exact numbers is interesting in itself. Let me explain.
In Texas, if you give money for political purposes, you are required by law to disclose the precise amount, your name, your employer, and your job title. Politicians are similarly required to collect and publicly disclose donor information.
Lobbyists, on the other hand, are only required to disclose broadly estimated minimums and maximums of money they are paid as they engage in the only kind of bribery that is legal in Texas.
So, who is the top earner, what is his background, and what does he do to earn that kind of money?
His name is Daniel Hodge. He was Greg Abbott’s chief of staff until 2017. According to reports he filed with the State of Texas, from the moment he stopped working for Governor Abbott until this October, he earned between $7,655,002 and $11,494,999.
If you thought only professional athletes made that kind of money, think again.
I will admit to being ignorant of the precise services Daniel Hodge renders to his clients. But whatever it is, it is apparently worth it to his highest-paying client, the Chickasaw Nation. They have paid him close to a million dollars over the last three years.
It must also be worth it to Daniel’s next 33 clients who, since he left his job with Governor Abbott, paid him between $6.8 million to $10.4 million. We will never know the exact payment amounts because the lobbyists have carved out special disclosure rules exclusive to themselves.
My list of questions is long. But maybe the most important is this: If Daniel Hodge’s clients are willing to pay him to lobby during years in which the Legislature isn’t even in session, who is he lobbying? I think someone should ask Governor Abbott.
I do not generally like to throw around worn-out clichés like, “Where there is smoke, there is fire,” but I would like to gently point out that there seems to be a lot of smoke around the governor.
Most people in Texas have a disdain for politicians and the political process in general, and for good reason. The more I learn, the more determined I am to expose the corruption in the Austin Swamp.
I am hoping you will join me. If not, our betters in Austin will continue to lie, cheat, and steal while hoping we stay ignorant of their misdeeds. The only way for them to continue their con game is for us to stay compliant and complacent.
This is a commentary published with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to firstname.lastname@example.org.