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When not fighting to suppress citizens’ 1st amendment rights, the Texas Ethics Commission is looking to do a favor for the lobby cartel it was originally chartered to keep in check. According to the San Antonio Express-News, the TEC is looking to reign in lavish spending on legislators by lobbyists – at the request of the lobby – who are tired of being shaken down by lawmakers for free stuff.

That’s right… lobbyists who have long made their living taking legislators on all-expense paid trips, buying them expensive tickets to sporting events and concerts, and wining and dining them like royalty, are now seeking the help of the commission that regulates them in order to squelch legislators’ practice of squeezing them for free stuff.

The report exposes a two-fold problem.

First, the practice of lobbyists wining, dining, and entertaining legislators has become so exorbitantly expensive that lobbyists themselves are looking for financial relief.

Second, the Texas Ethics Commission is more responsive to the industry that it regulates than the taxpayers, whose interest it purports to represent.

Rather than seek to increase transparency over spending by registered lobbyists and protect the 1st amendment rights of citizens to petition their government, the TEC has instead spent its resources seeking to suppress free speech rights and hide more lobby spending from taxpayers – all while increasing legislators’ per diem pay in the process.

Cracking down on the practice of lobby-funded junket-trips for legislators should be commended. After all, a 10-minute panel speech at a conference shouldn’t be an excuse for a legislator to be gifted a family vacation that most people can only dream of taking.

It never should have gotten to the point that legislators living a lobby-funded lifestyle would only be checked at the lobby’s request.

Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Senate attempted to restore citizen’s trust in the legislative process last session by passing a comprehensive set of ethics reforms in Senate Bill 19. Included were measures to stop the “revolving door” of legislators taking jobs in the lobby immediately after leaving office, and dramatically reducing the amount a lobbyist could spend wining and dining a legislator before having to report the expenditure.

As many Texans now know, Gov. Abbott’s ethics reforms were hijacked and ultimately killed by Speaker Joe Straus and the leadership of the Texas House. Abbott later called those actions “reprehensible” and “shameful.”

If legislators truly go to Austin to “shake things up” like they often promise to do on the campaign trail, what do they have to lose by passing Gov. Abbott’s ethics reform package?

A whole lot of perks paid for by the Austin lobby.

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