Another primary campaign season has come and gone and it was another in which the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) willingly cooperated in its processes being used to support dirty campaign tactics.
In Harris County, allies of State Rep. Wayne Smith (R–Baytown) used the complaints to smear his opponent Briscoe Cain. The TEC accepted the complaints against Cain despite the fact that the reporting error the complainants alleged was caused by the TEC’s computer systems, and not by Cain.
This is a common tactic. A close ally of an incumbent politician files an “ethics complaint” against a challenger. The TEC then “accepts” the complaint and begins investigating the challenger candidate. Although the complaint almost always alleges some minor reporting error, the incumbent is then able to mislead his constituents by telling them that his opponent is “under investigation” for “ethics violations.”
While the practice is rampant in Texas, Rhode Island’s ethics commission is getting ethical on complaint timing. They’re limiting when complaints can be filed by instituting an “election season blackout” to prevent the use of ethics complaints as campaign tools.
A similar reform in Texas would be a step in the right direction. But fundamental reform will only take place if the TEC is abolished or majorly reformed.
Currently the commission is comprised of appointees who, by virtue of the appointment process, are always closely connected to those in power. Recent TEC commissioners have primarily been washed-up former politicians, failed candidates, and others from the establishment political class. These sort of appointments defeat the entire purposes of the commission. It is obvious they will be biased towards those in power and the commissioners have been.
For several years, the commission has been solely focused on targeting conservative groups like Empower Texans rather than shining a spotlight on government officials. Ironically it is the TEC’s targets – conservative groups like Empower Texans – that are left to do the work the TEC was set up to do.
In fighting government watchdogs the TEC is attacking the people who actually support their statutory mission of shining light on the powerful.
If grassroots citizens and leaders were tasked with investigating and adjudicating ethical concerns in Texas, they would be far more interested in protecting average Texans from governmental overreach and corruption. It is time the TEC turned its focus toward elected officials and government employees. Otherwise, the speech-stifling agency should be abolished.