Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Texas Ethics Commission - Time to Reboot?

The Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) was established in 1992 to ensure
fair, consistent, and tough enforcement of campaign finance, lobby, and other ethics laws.

TEC’s Key objectives are outlined in Chapter 571 of the Texas Government Code:

  1. Control and reduce the cost of elections.
  2. Eliminate opportunities for undue influence over elections and government actions.
  3. Disclose fully information related to expenditures and contributions for elections and for petitioning the government.
  4. Enhance the potential for individual participation in electoral and governmental processes and
  5. Ensure the public’s confidence and trust in the government. 

In 2014 the Legislature increased TEC’s funding in order to roll out a new electronic filing system that was described as an
“intuitive …system that will provide feedback for clearly wrong entries to help reduce filing errors…result in more accurate information for the public. The new electronic filing system will contain comprehensive management tools, including a robust database that will allow the Commission to verify the completeness and accuracy of disclosure information.”
And of course, the new system required new tax-funded staff positions to provide more robust training and enforcement. 

It sounded good at the time. The TEC using advanced technology to keep track of electronic filings by candidates made sense. After all, computers are great at mundane tasks such as making sure reports are filed on time and checking basic math.

But, a closer look…a look at an actual candidate in 2016…shows TEC’s expensive new technology and staff are NOT catching even the most basic noncompliance issues.

Thus, the TEC is NOT ensuring full disclosure of campaign finances.

Example: Judge Elaine Palmer – Harris County 215th Civil District Court 

Elaine Palmer was elected Judge of the Harris Count 215th Civil District Court in 2012.

She is currently running for re-election. She was on the ballot in both the 2016 Democrat Primary and the Democrat Primary Run-off. She won the run-off and is now on the 2016 General Election ballot.

As a current office holder, and a currently opposed candidate, she is required by law to file numerous campaign financial reports by specific dates throughout the year. 


In July of 2015, Judge Palmer did not file her semi-annual report with the TEC.
What did TEC do about it?


In January of 2016, Judge Palmer did not file another semi-annual report with the TEC. What did TEC do about it? 


In February of 2016, Judge Palmer failed to file her “30 days before the Primary Election” report. What did TEC do about it? 


In February of 2016, Judge Palmer failed to file her “8 days before the Primary Election” report. What did TEC do about it?


In May of 2016, Judge Palmer failed to file her “Run-off Election” report. What did TEC do about it? 


In July of 2016, Judge Palmer failed to file yet another semi-annual report. What did TEC do about it? 


In short – a current office holder and candidate did not report anything about her campaign finances for over a year before the election, during her primary election, or during her primary run-off....

And the TEC, the government agency whose duty is to ensure FULL PUBLIC DISCLOSURE of candidate expenditures and contributions did NOTHING…


Judge Palmer’s reporting issues don’t end there.

In September of 2016, six months after the primary election, Judge Palmer finally filed late reports going back to 2015.

That same day she filed a “FINAL REPORT.”

That’s right….a current officeholder…and currently opposed candidate…filed a “FINAL REPORT” ending her campaign reporting right in the middle of the General Election!
“I do not expect any further political contributions or political expenditures in connection with my candidacy. I understand that designating a report as a final report terminates my campaign treasurer appointment. I also understand that I may not accept any campaign contributions or make any campaign expenditures without a campaign treasurer appointment on file.”

According to TEC records, since terminating her campaign treasurer on 5/14/16, Judge Palmer has still not filed a new treasurer appointment ….

and yet…

She has claimed over $26,000 in new campaign contributions, while continuing to list her terminated treasurer on her reports, and not having a current campaign treasurer appointment on file with the TEC.

And that’s still not the end of Judge Palmer’s reporting issues.

Two PACs reported Judge Elaine Palmer Campaign contributions to the TEC that Judge Palmer did NOT report.

The Harris County Democrat Party reported receiving $1,000 from The Elaine Palmer Campaign on August 3, 2016. But Judge Palmer did not report that contribution on her campaign financial report. 

The Texans for Good Leaders PAC reported making the following contributions to the Elaine Palmer Campaign
   $5,000   on   2/18/16
 $10,000   on   2/25/16
   $1,000   on   7/18/16
But Judge Palmer did not report receiving these three contributions totaling $16,000 on her campaign reports.

And the math Judge Palmer used in her report covering 2/21/16 thru 5/14/16 doesn’t add up either.

Starting cash on hand
$     8,233.17
$       8,233.17
Monetary Contributions
   +  9,350.00
     +  9,350.00
Total Expenditures
   - 34,055.00
     - 34,055.00

Ending Cash on Hand
$        964.92
$  (16,471.83)

A discrepancy of over $16,000…yet again…no red flags by the TEC’s new electronic reporting system and expert staff? The ones the Legislature was told wouldallow the Commission to verify the completeness and accuracy of disclosure information?

As a taxpayer, I find the lack of public disclosure being allowed by the TEC very disturbing.

In Summary

The TEC has been entrusted to ensure the public’s confidence in our government by ensuring full disclosure by candidates in Texas elections. 

The TEC “self- reported” to the Legislature that the TEC works hard to ensurefair, consistent, and tough enforcement of campaign finance, lobby, and other ethics laws.

The TEC purchased a state of the art technology system that they claimed would "allow the Commission to verify the completeness and accuracy of disclosure information.

Yet, one candidate breaks multiple compliance rules:

  1. Fails to file campaign reports for over a year 
  2. Fails to file any reports during a Primary Election
  3. Fails to file any reports during a Run-off Election
  4. Files a FINAL REPORT during a General Election and then continues to receive campaign donations
  5. Accepts over $26,000 without a current treasurer on file
  6. Fails to report $17,000 in donations reported to the TEC by PACs
  7. Math errors totaling over $16,000

And the TEC does NOTHING….

.......ABSOLUTELY NOTHING…. to inform the voters.

The TEC did not place Judge Palmer on their “delinquent filer list in 2015 or 2016.

The TEC did not have Judge Palmer’s campaign report issues on any meeting agenda during 2015 or 2016…and...

The TEC do not have Judge Palmer on their sworn complaint order list for 2015 or 2016...

...even after I personally filed sworn complaints concerning Judge Palmer's lack of campaign reporting.

So next week, Harris County voters will go to the polls not knowing a very important fact... 

...the fact that a candidate for the 215th District Civil Judge….a position which imposes penalties on others who do not live up to their responsibilities….completely ignores her own legal responsibilities in campaign reporting.

They will not have the facts because the Texas Ethics Commission is incapable of detecting simple, basic violations of campaign finance reporting laws….even with the newest technology and additional staff.

As a taxpayer, it makes no sense to me for Texans to continue funding the TEC. We should cut our losses, admit the TEC is a complete failure, and turn the responsibility of ensuring complete and accurate campaign reporting over to someone who IS capable of doing this important job for Texas.

Preferably a commission elected by the people of Texas. A commission which answers directly to us. So when they don't do their job, we can vote them out of office.

Colleen Vera