Grand jury frustrated with 'consulting' loopholeJuly 26, 2006
By LEE MCGUIRE / KVUE News
A Travis County Grand Jury has issued a rare written report expressing its frustration with a state agency that was created to reveal the connections between money and politics.
Texas lawmakers aren't paid much for their public service, so many have outside jobs. They are required to report those positions in so-called "Personal Financial Statements."
But in its report, the 390th Grand Jury writes an investigation into a "high-profile" public official could not proceed because that official simply listed "consultant" on his disclosure form, without including information about who he was consulting for.
"In the case in question, there was obvious misconduct on the part of the public official," wrote the grand jury, "But, due to the information given by the lawyer at the Texas Ethics Commission, the public official was able to 'hide' his income by listing only 'Consultant' on the form and avoiding the sources of his consultant fees."
The grand jury ended its service without indicting any public officials.
Andrew Wheat with the watchdog group "Texans for Public Justice" says the report mirrors his own frustration with the Texas Ethics Commission, which follows rules established by the Legislature.
"The public has a right to know what went down," Wheat said. "Saying that you're a self-employed consultant does not tell us who you're consulting for or what the interest is, or where the potential conflict is."
Tim Sorrels, a spokesman for the Texas Ethics Commission, says in the 13 years that Personal Financial Statements have been required, no one has ever requested a written opinion on the subject. He says state statutes clearly outline what must be reported, and adds that listing "consulting" as a source of outside income satisfies those requirements.