Abbott's Ethics Debacle
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Abbott’s Ethics Debacle

Will Abbott veto bills to hide assets and to avoid prosecution?

Greg Abbott laid out ethics reform as an "emergency item" when the legislative session began. Well, unless he was using reverse psychology on Republican legislators, Abbott has been given a NFL caliber stiff-arm on his calls for ethics reform. 
The two most significant ethics bills promoted by Republicans and passed by the Legislature weaken state ethics laws rather than strengthen them. One bill creates a massive loophole for legislators to hide assets held by their spouses. The other creates a series of new procedural hurdles to shield corrupt state leaders from investigation and allow them to be prosecuted only in their home county. 

Loophole to Hide Assets

bill by Sen. Joan Huffman (SD 17- Houston) would gut a year old policy that was adopted after a former Republican legislator accepted a Mercedes as a gift from a state contractor and explained her failure to report it by saying it was her husband’s. If Abbott signs the bill into law, state lawmakers will be able to hide the assets of their spouses on their required state disclosure documents—creating a massive loophole for lawmakers to engage in conflicts of interest by accepting gifts and income sources that are moved through their spouses. Remember, Texas is a community property state, so, in most instances, spouses have a fifty percent claim on assets acquired during a marriage.

Home Cooking from Local Prosecutors

Republican legislative leaders loosed rather than tightened legal scrutiny of unethical state leaders by building in a personal political conflict of interest. Sen Joan Huffman (clearly taking on the role of corruption caretaker) and state Rep. Phil King (HD 61- Weatherford) authored and moved what can fairly be called the "Corruption Protection Act."
The Huffman/King legislation sets up a series of new barriers before prosecution of an official can proceed, and moves the prosecution of corrupt state leaders out of the Public Integrity Unit, to the Texas Rangers and finally to local prosecutors—the same prosecutors who give speeches and host fundraisers for the politicians charged with corruption. It’s the prosecutorial equivalent of home cooking, where the person prosecuting the crime is likely a friend and ally of the criminal. Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDonald plainly and accurately said it best, the bill is a "get out jail free card" for corrupt public officials.

Will Abbott Veto Bill Weakening Ethics Rules?

Abbott said strengthening ethics laws was his priority. Legislators ignored him and did just the opposite. Abbott holds the last card, though. He can either show weakness by signing or allowing the bills to become law OR he can suck up the courage to veto them. We’ll find out soon enough which he chooses.

Statement by Lone Star Project Director:

"Legislative leaders didn’t just ignore Greg Abbott, they steamrolled him by passing bills that encourage unethical and illegal behavior. There’s no sugar-coating it, legislative leaders ignored Greg Abbott as though he’d never uttered a word about ethics reform. We’ll find out pretty soon whether he’ll push back or stay run-over. 
"It’s clear enough that the top priority for Dan Patrick and state legislative leaders is to protect themselves from any serious ethical scrutiny. The state Capitol is already a playground for crony donors and off-the-wall tea party Republican activists. Patrick and his bunch are intent on making it worse."

Matt Angle is the Founder and Director of the Lone Star Project, a Democratic PAC.
June 1, 2015
Contact: Matt Angle
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