Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released an opinion Tuesday confirming there is no specific law prohibiting state legislators from being employed as tax-funded, local government lobbyists while simultaneously serving in public office.

Paxton’s opinion was released in response to a request from State Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) who was told by a state agency during a hearing that no law prohibits “an elected official from representing a client who is not a person before an executive branch agency.”

Davis chaired the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee last legislative session when fellow Houston legislator, Jim Murphy, came under fire for receiving $312,000 in compensation from the Westchase District, a municipal management district (MMD) in West Houston.

Despite having the title of “general manager,” Murphy claimed to be a contractor, not an employee of the district. Under a 2005 opinion from then-Attorney General Greg Abbott, a contractor for an MMD is not prohibited from serving in the legislature. Murphy reportedly has a fixed contract for five years.

Paxton acknowledges state law does prohibit a legislator from:

“[A]ccept[ing] other employment or compensation that could reasonably be expected to impair the officer’s or employee’s independence of judgment in the performance of the officer’s or employee’s official duties.”

That statute, however, is applied on a case-by-case basis and does not generally prohibit an elected official from serving as a lobbyist while in office.

At the time of the hearing, Davis said if the act were not prohibited, she would file legislation to ensure that it was. However, as of the first day of the 2019 legislative session, no bill has been filed to address the issue.

While the state legislature is expected to consider bans on tax-funded lobbying by local governments this legislative session, they would be wise to prohibit lobbying by elected officials as well.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.