It’s one of the rules of how governments actually work: regulatory agencies exist to protect their licensees from unlicensed competition. That rule holds true for the Texas Ethics Commission, the agency billed with regulating professional lobbyists in the State of Texas.
Outgoing liberal Republican House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio apparently wants to keep it that way.
On the Thursday between Christmas and New Year’s Day, Straus appointed long-time lobbyist Randy Erben to one of the Republican spots on the Texas Ethics Commission. Straus’s announcement identified Erben as an “Austin attorney” and an adjunct professor at UT Law School, but failed to mention that for two decades Erben was one of Austin’s highest-paid tax-funded lobbyists.
Until he left the lobby in 2015 to work as a legislative aide to Gov. Greg Abbott, Erben had a long list of lobby clients, including tax-funded entities including the cities of Austin, Houston, and San Antonio, big businesses such as AT&T, and liberal non-profits like Raise Your Hand Texas.
Under state law, Erben will be barred from lobbying while he serves on the TEC, although that did not stop one of his predecessors. In response to questions from Texas Scorecard, Erben said he is not currently lobbying and has no plans to return to the lobby, though he declined to disclose any other sources of income.
On the website for Erben’s law practice and lobby firm, he brags about jumping back and forth between the lobby and state government.
“Throughout a distinguished 35-year career, Mr. Erben has moved seamlessly between the private and public sectors,” Erben claims.
Billed as the enforcer of “ethics” in state government, the Texas Ethics Commission has earned a reputation as the un-ethical commission for its attacks on citizens seeking to be involved in the public policy process. The agency has never in its history pursued a case against a registered lobbyist despite rampant criminality in Austin, but for years it has sought to impose fines on Texans for Fiscal Responsibility President Michael Quinn Sullivan for publishing the Fiscal Responsibility Index.
Thankfully, this new appointment to the TEC may not ultimately matter. The clock is ticking on a legal appeal that should end up stripping the agency of all of its enforcement authority.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.

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