Before his committee backtracked and voted to Censure UT Regent Wallace Hall instead of issuing articles of impeachment on Monday, State Representative Dan Flynn sent a letter to members of the Republican Caucus defending his actions and attacking those of us who have been critical of his efforts. The letter, which was laughably emblazoned in red ink “CONFIDENTIAL: TEXAS HOUSE REPUBLICAN CAUCUS MEMBERS ONLY” was published by establishment media outlets within hours of its distribution. The letter contains a disturbing level of deception that prompted some research which revealed that Representative Flynn has a history of baldly lying to his colleagues.
In the letter, Flynn attempted to redirect criticism that his Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations was created in order to impeach Wallace Hall by noting that the committee was established before the Straus regime went after Hall’s head (and long before they failed). This statement, of course, is true, but it is deceptive because it obscures Flynn’s connection to the UT scandal that predates his attacks on Hall.
During the 83rd Legislature, House Speaker Joe Straus created the Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations and appointed Flynn to co-chair it along with Houston Democrat Carol Alvarado. The Committee was quietly set with the task of looking at the practice of outside foundations supplementing the salaries of government officials. The practice had drawn scrutiny because the outside organizations offering salary supplements can often be seen as attempting to purchase favors from decision-makers within the agency.
This task meant that Flynn’s committee actually looked at the arrangements behind the UT Law School Foundation’s contributions to the school’s “forgivable loan” program that led to former UT Law School Dean Larry Sager’s ouster. So Flynn and his committee had looked previously at the very scandals that Regent Hall was confronting in his investigation. Flynn’s letter to his colleagues obscures this fact.
All in all, the Select Committee only considered and voted out five bills: three House bills authored by Flynn and two Senate bills authored by Wendy Davis. The only house bill with major implications was House Bill 12, which — in the form that came to the House Floor — required that people (including legal persons, like corporations and foundations) be required to identify the supplements they are giving to universities or other state agencies so that the public can scrutinize the donors and beneficiaries for possible conflicts of interest.
But Flynn used deception and outright dishonesty with his colleagues to morph that bill into one that hid contributors to the salary supplement programs rather than exposing potential conflicts of interest.
When the bill came to the floor on May 9th, 2013, it was fairly innocuous. While it likely was an insufficient response to the growing scandal at UT, it at least increased transparency. But rather than amend that bill in committee with a substitute so that members could have fair notice of its contents, Flynn amended the bill on the floor six times in six minutes with little scrutiny. By the time the bill was passed, it had already been watered down. But that wasn’t Flynn’s real crime.
After the bill was transferred to the Senate and watered down further by UT-lackey Senator Judith Zaffirini, the bill went to conference committee where Flynn and Zaffirini hashed out the details on the bill. But rather than follow the rules and resolve the disputed language, the two legislators went “outside the bounds” and gutted the bill by adding provisions that prohibited universities and other beneficiaries of salary supplementing grants from exposing the names of the outside donors. A previous amendment that had required the donating organizations to identify donors over $10,000 was gutted to allow the donor’s name to be withheld if they requested to be anonymous. Provisions were added which exempted reports required by the law from being subject to open records laws.
These changes reversed the entire purpose of the legislation. No longer would any person be able to see what potential conflicts of interest were being created. Those who would give money to a university or state agency in order to buy favors would no longer be subject to any scrutiny.
Yet Flynn came to the floor on May 26, 2013, the busy second-to-last day of session, and laid out the bill he had just destroyed. Beforehand, though, he laid out an “outside the bounds resolution” and told members that he and Zaffirini had made “minor clarifying changes” that “don’t impact the intent, purpose, or scope” of the legislation.
In other words, he lied to all 149 of his colleagues. And they believed him. Within a minute the resolution was adopted and all attempts to cure the situation that had allowed a scandal to rock the University of Texas Law School had been ruined.
In the fever pace of the final days of session, members of the legislature depend on their colleagues to be open and forthright with them about the contents of their legislation. Hundreds of bills are moved and it really is impossible for each member to read each word of what is passed. A dishonest representative has the ability to thwart our entire legislative structure if they are capable of gaming the system in the final days to morph a piece of legislation into something it was not when it was approved by the body. That the system can be so easily abused by a single member demands that the House Rules and the typical practices of the body be scrutinized. For two sessions now, State Representative David Simpson has been decrying the House’s current practice of abusing “outside the bounds resolutions.” Legislators would be wise to listen to his concerns.
Representative Dan Flynn surrendered his honor and broke his word with every member when he lied to them about the contents of his conference committee report. He did it so that he could game the system to trick his colleagues into voting for legislation that they shouldn’t have supported and likely might not have, had they been fully informed. On Monday he used his political committee to issue a censure of UT Regent Wallace Hall as part of a political vendetta and he continues to use deception in order to defend his involvement in the impeachment debacle. When Flynn arrives at the legislature in January, his colleagues should consider censuring him for his deception on the House floor. Without admonishment and behavior correction, Flynn simply cannot be trusted in any setting.