Draft ethics ruling: Don't do the math
September 20, 2006
By LISA SANDBERG
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
AUSTIN - Texas politicians who receive suitcases full of cash may not be required to report the amount of it, according to a draft ruling by the Texas Ethics Commission.
Under the proposal, candidates for state offices could satisfy Texas disclosure laws by simply calling it "currency."
Watchdog groups deplored Tuesday's draft opinion by the agency established to monitor campaign-finance laws. Agency commissioners are expected to vote on it Friday.
"If the Texas Ethics Commission adopts this opinion ... public officials can take millions of dollars in cash and legally write 'currency' on their disclosure form," Craig McDonald, director of the Austin-based Texans for Public Justice, which favors tougher campaign-finance laws, said in a statement. "This interpretation of the disclosure law is absurd and dangerous."
The vote will come six months after the same commission ruled that a gift of two checks for $100,000 could be listed simply as "checks."
Texas requires all public officials to report cash donations in excess of $250. But the law, according to the Ethics Commission, doesn't define how much description is needed.
"In our opinion ... the legislative intent as discerned from the plain reading of the words in the statute is that the description of a gift is not required to include the value of the gift," stated the draft ruling, put together by agency staff.
Under the draft, a candidate could describe a gift of cash as "currency" and still be within the law, but describing a cash gift as "a piece of paper" or "an envelope" would put one outside the law, it said.
Agency staff said it hoped the Legislature would consider amending the law.