For more than a decade, an appointed member of the Texas Ethics Commission issued fines and promulgated rules designed to silence citizens while lavishing legislative offices with gifts on behalf of his “day job.” That’s illegal, on multiple fronts, and for it Tom Harrison should be held accountable.
So today I filed a sworn criminal complaint [pdf format, 101 pages] against Tom Harrison with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. He should be investigated and charged with having knowingly violated Texas Penal Code, Chapter 36 (“Bribery and Corrupt Influence”). Section 36.09 forbids anyone from conferring “any benefit on a public servant that he knows the public servant is prohibited by law from accepting.”
That includes sports tickets, meals, notebooks, golf tees and other items Harrison provided legislative offices.
As a former executive director of the Texas Ethics Commission, Harrison abruptly resigned from the TEC this summer after we demanded emails he had exchanged with legislative offices from his full-time perch at the quasi-governmental “Texas County and District Retirement System.”
Now we know why he scurried out the door.
The emails, which cover a 12-month period, show Harrison lavishing key legislative staffers with tickets to events, merchandise and meals all while promoting legislation beneficial to his employer.
As a member of the TEC, Harrison voted for Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 535, in which he opined that by merely accepting a legislator’s invitation to speak about a bill, a citizen could cause themselves to be required to register as a lobbyist. And yet Harrison was spending untold dollars promoting his employer’s legislative agenda.
Harrison didn’t want citizens to even be able to answer questions from their own lawmakers. Yet he was showering legislative staffers with gifts.
Let’s be clear: Harrison wasn’t just the former executive director of the TEC and an appointed member of the board, he was also the vice-chairman of the commission.
Under state law, Harrison was forbidden from not only being a lobbyist while serving on the Texas Ethics Commission, but from engaging in any lobbying activities. Yet the documents I provided the district attorney’s office clearly show Harrison doing just that.
This could not have been a secret to Harrison’s colleagues. Every member of the Texas Ethics Commission and the commission staff ought to be investigated over their knowledge of Harrison’s criminal activity.
It is unreasonable to believe that the TEC commissioners and staff did not know that Harrison’s full-time day job entailed lobbying legislators on behalf of his employer.
That they would have known, and failed to take action, is in itself a violation of their oaths of office.
Their hypocrisy is even more stark when their efforts to regulate everyday interactions between citizens and legislators are taken into account.
Along with the other commission members, Harrison weaponized the TEC as a tool against citizens.
Harrison also served as secretary-treasurer of the far-left Council on Government Ethics Laws, which champions the imposition of severe speech restrictions on citizens through regulatory action.
Harrison was appointed to the board in 2004 by Gov. Rick Perry, at the behest of Senate Democrats. He was re-appointed in 2008, and should have left in 2012, because the state constitution limits service to no more than two terms. However, Harrison continued to serve, colluding with Senate Democrats to prevent anyone else from being nominated so he could unconstitutionally continue to be on the TEC board.
It is time Tom Harrison, and all of the TEC commissioners, are held accountable.