Editorial: Ethics panel renders itself next to uselessSan Antonio Express-News
In a decision that defies common sense, the Texas Ethics Commission determined it's enough for the public to know a state official received a donation. No one needs to know, according to the commission, the value of that donation.
State law requires officials to report gifts and donations they receive in excess of $250. In the case of Bill Ceverha, a trustee of the state Employees Retirement System, the public doesn't know whether the check he received from Houston homebuilder and Republican mega-donor Bob Perry was in the amount of a few hundred dollars or a few hundred thousand dollars.
That's no exaggeration. According to Texans for Public Justice, Perry gave $4.6 million to politicians and political committees during the 2004 election cycle.
And Ceverha is no ordinary state official. In 2002, he served on the transition team of House Speaker Tom Craddick, who appointed him to the retirement system board. He also served as treasurer for Rep. Tom DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority.
A state district judge ruled in a civil case that Ceverha failed to disclose more than $600,000 in corporate money the group received. Fines and legal fees from that court battle led Ceverha to file for bankruptcy last October. The Perry gift, he says, was meant to help him cover those expenses.
"I just felt, why should this be anybody's business?" Ceverha told Express-News Austin bureau chief Peggy Fikac.
Perhaps because the board of the Employees Retirement System has nearly $20 billion in assets under its supervision. So the public has a clear right to know details about gifts to its members that might pose a conflict of interest or even the appearance thereof.
The Texas Ethics Commission certainly knows this. Nonetheless, Raymond "Tripp" Davenport III, Ross Fischer and Francisco Hernandez voted to keep the value of Perry's gift hidden from public view. Ceverha's disclosure that he had merely received a "check" from Perry was sufficient.
A public disclosure policy that doesn't require a value to be placed on gifts is next to worthless. So is an ethics commission that could render such a decision.