The ethics of stomping on state's constitutionBY Austin American-Statesman Editorial Board
Friday, February 11, 2005
Republican leaders in the state Legislature have crafted one of the worst pieces of legislation in recent memory in an effort to protect themselves from criminal prosecution for election law violations.
A bill by state Rep. Mary Denny, R-Aubrey, would place legislators above the law when it comes to political campaigns. Denny, chairwoman of the House Elections Committee, prefers that allegations of election law violations be turned over not to district attorneys, but to the toothless Texas Ethics Commission.
Her bill, HB 913, would give the Ethics Commission power to prohibit state prosecutors from pursuing criminal charges for campaign violations. This sets legislators above the law and violates the separation of powers established in the state constitution.
This effort, of course, is to punish Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle for investigating campaign violations alleged in the 2002 election. House Speaker Tom Craddick, who appointed Denny as elections committee chair, has been caught up in Earle's investigation ‹ and this is a way of striking back.
A more egregious abuse of power is hard to imagine. Denny's bill attacks the core of representative government: the checks and balances represented by separating the executive, legislative and judicial authorities. Her bill would establish the Legislature as a power unto itself.
U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, tried a similar move in Congress recently, but it was turned away because members of his own party couldn't stomach it.
What makes Denny's power play so laughable is that it would give the Ethics Commission sway over district attorneys in election law cases. The Ethics Commission is among the weakest arms of state government. In nearly 14 years, the commission, which has civil but not criminal authority in election law complaints, has never ‹ never ‹ subpoenaed a witness or documents to investigate a complaint.
Democrats ‹ and Republicans ‹ should stop this vendetta against Earle before it goes any further and wrecks the state constitution. Denny's bill is an outrage that must not stand.