Citizens often hear about how special interest lobbyists “wine and dine” legislators when they are in Austin and Washington DC. But few know that Texas laws impose virtually no effective disclosure requirements on these gifts.
Lobbyists are allowed to shower public officials with up to $114 per day in food, beverages, entertainment, and other gifts without ever having to disclose the recipient’s name. By combining their expenditures with other lobbyists under the “joint expenditure rule,” they can even give multiples of that number.
In the words of one former TEC chairman, “If you get enough lobbyists and lawmakers together in the same room, you can throw quite a party.”
This has led to an unwritten rule amongst the Austin lobby. Legislators’ names don’t show up on a lobbyist’s report without their express permission. This means the lobbyists find a loophole, or they just go ahead and break the law.
Texas is far behind the curve on eliminating these corruption-inducing undisclosed gifts. Ideally, all gifts over a nominal amount would be banned. Until that is done, public officials and employees should be required to disclose all gifts they receive that are over a nominal amount.
Elected officials can be held accountable in ways that lobbyists cannot – namely at the ballot box. If public officials want to accept meals, drinks, or other trinkets from those seeking to influence them, they should feel comfortable explaining themselves to their constituents.
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