Every March, Sunshine Week reminds us to examine transparency in Texas, where there is still much progress to be made.
During the 2015 session, lawmakers created a huge haystack in which to hide government contracts. They are called “form 1295 filings,” and at the current pace, there will be more than 50,000 of them filed on the Texas Ethics Commission’s website before the end of the year.
First, more transparency is good and taxpayers should be glad that that 1295 forms exist and there will be so many of them. But, 1295 forms are being promoted as a measure to allow Texans to see when and how their elected officials do business with government. On this front, there is a much better option.
The vast majority of papers in the 1295 form haystack will be filed by owners of companies that are not involved in government. As a way of holding elected officials accountable, the new law is the equivalent of asking for a few documents and having a truckload delivered to your door.
Politicians should directly disclose any contracts they or their family members have with government entities. This policy was proposed but not passed during the 2013 and 2015 legislative sessions. Then the form 1295 disclosures from companies could be organized and used to check lawmaker disclosures for honesty.
Alternatively, if politicians are ultimately required to disclose their government contracts, they could easily include them with their personal financial disclosures – a form already required by law (though not published on the TEC website – yet another area for improvement).
Lawmakers have fought tooth and nail against this, which strongly suggests many of them are benefiting from government contracts. When elected officials do business with government, it brings into doubt the independence of their voting behavior.