Being in the Texas Legislature is not intended to be a lucrative career. Legislators receive part-time pay. They are only in session six months every two years. It is, for all intents and purposes, a volunteer position for those wishing to serve the public.
Last week, we released an exhaustive report covering the loans relating to the campaigns and PACs of every Texas Legislator. Despite a tepid and defensive response from the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) regarding our figures and call for an audit, we delved further into the campaign finances of the Legislature. This time we took a closer look at how Texas Legislators are spending your contributions. Through our research it appears that many of them aren’t particularly careful in observing the rules set out by the TEC (although the TEC isn’t really paying attention), and some expenditures, while most likely legal, aren’t very ethical.
One of the main rules guiding Texas politicians is the prohibition of using political contributions for personal use. Personal use is very subjective to the TEC, as politicians are permitted to profit through interest on their own loans and often travel to luxurious destinations as long as it is for campaign reasons. An area strictly forbidden is renting or purchasing property from close relatives, themselves, or a business they may own (at least 10% ownership). We examined Legislators’ payments to themselves and known/suspected family members. Many Legislators have been paying rent for properties that appear to violate this rule.
- Sen. Craig Estes paid $1,926.40 in 2001 to rent office space from Estes, Inc. Although Estes denied owning stock in the company, court records proved otherwise.
- Sen. Charles Schwertner rented the Schwertner Ranch & Event Center several times from 2010-2014 totaling $107,110.61. The Center (Bell County Property ID: 147822) is owned by Jim Schwertner, a cousin of Sen. Schwertner and member of the Texas A&M Board of Regents. It is not known what degree of cousin Jim Schwertner is related to the Senator, but if he is a first cousin this would be a violation by falling into the second degree of consanguinity. Jim and Sen. Charles Schwertner also faced controversy in 2012 when they allegedly used a plane owned by Texas A&M, which would be highly illegal if true.
- Rep. Bryan Hughes paid $1,200 to rent office space in 2005 to his company D. Bryan Hughes Law Office.
- Rep. Borris Miles paid $2,200 to lease his campaign headquarters from Milestone Financial, which he is listed as owner.
- Rep. Sylvester Turner paid $2,365 from 2004-2008 for renting office space from Barnes & Turner where Rep. Turner is listed as a partner.
- Rep. Paul Workman paid $4,796.09 from 2010-2012 to rent space from Workman Commercial Construction Services for his campaign headquarters and phone banking (including cell phones). Rep. Workman is listed as the secretary and founder of that company.
A Legislator is also not permitted to make payments to themselves or their businesses for services beyond that of the actual expense. While its unknown if profit was charged, these Legislators made payments that appear suspect.
- Sen. Craig Estes paid Estes Inc. $6,178.07 for a LaserJet printer in 2004, a “builders lumber campaign” in 2001, and a “black tie affair” in 2004.
- Rep. Jim Pitts paid himself $3,463.25 for “use of office equipment” from 2004-2005.
- Rep. Allan Ritter paid his company Ritter Lumber Company (aka Ritter & Home) $3,163.65 from 2000-2012 for campaign materials, supplies, and signs.
- Rep. Sylvester Turner paid Barnes & Turner $720 for legal fees in 2004 and $1,450 for a legislative intern in 2008.
- Rep. Jim Keffer paid himself $1,000 in December of 2004 for “staff bonuses”.
Families have also profited, in some cases greatly, from working for their related Legislators. The TEC forbids paying spouses or dependent children for their campaign work. Since this is extremely narrow in scope, we also included other known and suspected relatives such as parents, siblings, and non-dependent children. Though it may be legal according to the TEC, it could be considered quite unethical. Here are some examples:
- Rep. Tom Craddick paid his daughter and now Texas Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick $1,019,009.89 (that is not a typo) from 2003-2011. The last payment ($7,215.92) occurring just two months before she announced her candidacy. Despite paying her on average $113,223.11 per year, Rep. Craddick dismissed this because she was not a “dependent”.
- Rep. Joe Farias paid his son Jaime $4,820 for “putting up signs” and “taking down signs” from July to November of 2012.
- Rep. Marsha Farney paid her husband Bryan P. Farney $11,577.23 from November of 2011 to April of 2012 for being her “campaign manager”.
- Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt paid his daughter Lauren $4,178.50 for “contract labor” in 2006 and 2008. Rep. Kleinschmidt claimed he would repay his campaign, but only a partial repayment of $3,406 was recorded in 2008 (Report #387446).
- Rep. Roberto Alonzo paid his sister Monica $27,236.60 for “consulting” from 2004-2011.
- Rep. Garnet Coleman paid his mother Gloria J. Coleman $15,674 between 2000 and 2013 for accounting and working polls.
- Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (which is not his real name by the way) paid his mother Lupe (Guadelupe) Fischer $17,125 between 2002 and 2004 for “staff support”.
- Rep. John Raney paid Grant Hawkins Design, which is owned by his son-in-law Grant Hawkins, $4,000 for “logo and design services”.
- Sen. Troy Fraser paid his son Andrew $19,485.90 from 2002-2004 for “office support”.
- Sen. Juan Hinojosa paid his wife Rosalie $2,500 in 2004.
- Sen. Carlos Uresti paid his son Michael C. Uresti $36,322.99 for “contract labor” from 2004-2012. He also paid his father Alberto $3,055, his brother Tomas $48,921.15, his brother Albert $2,920, his brother Daniel $1,873.37, his brother Larry $2,556, his brother Lorenzo $5,846.22, his brother Samuel $2,405, and his wife (at the time) Yolanda $2,500 for campaign work.
- Sen. Leticia Van De Putte paid her daughter Vanessa $1,500 for “contract labor” in 2006.
If that isn’t enough, we found current and former Legislators using campaign contributions for personal use (themselves and staff), mainly buying clothing (which is prohibited).
- Sen. Leticia Van De Putte spent $26,872.49 on “golf tournament apparel” in 2010, 2011, and 2012.
- Rep. Kyle Kacal bought a sports coat for $277.59 and ties for $162.37 in 2013.
- Rep. Dennis Bonnen spent $156.02 in 2005 and 2007 to clean his suits and ties.
- Rep. Stefani Carter spent $63.50 on raincoats for staff in 2012.
- Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer also bought raincoats ($40.95) for staff in 2004.
- Rep. Jim Pitts spent $343.03 on jackets and golf shirts in 2003, 2005, and 2006.
- Rep. Allen Fletcher bought “suits, shirts, shoes” in 2011 for $457.
- Former Rep. Kino Flores (aka Mr. Ten Percent) bought $2,000 worth of suits from Foley’s in 2003. He suspiciously spelled (misspelled?) suits as “suites”.
- Former Rep. Jerry Madden purchased “5 suits” from “Pennys” totaling $579.12 in 2000.
- Former Rep. Chuck Hopson bought “ties for House members” in 2009 totaling $525.82.
- Former Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway bought herself “walking shoes” in 2006, 2007, and 2009 totaling $383.56.
Finally, Rep. Senfronia Thompson, who has been in the Texas House since 1972, appears to be just giving away her campaign money to random people. Since 2000, she has given $71,250 in gift cards/coupons to “constituents” and the “needy”. It’s not stated who they were or how much each was given. These were recorded as bulk purchases anywhere from $750 to $12,000 per transaction. She also donated $12,057.30 to various individuals from 2000-2010, including two donations to an unknown group call “The Redskin Sport” and an unknown individual named “Houston Retiree”. Many of these were simply labeled “Donation”. She gave $150 to a student for getting a “perfect score on [the] TAKS test” and $200 to that student’s teacher. She also paid $2,000 to the University of Arkansas for a person named Silas Hunt Hall. While these donations may be noble in nature and charitable contributions are permitted, these are not donations to non-profit organizations. This is campaign money simply being passed out to random individuals with no information as to who they are or what purpose they serve.
This report clearly shows an enormous lack of scrutiny from the Texas Ethics Commission. As former U.S. Senate Jacob Javis stated, “When scrutiny is lacking, tyranny, corruption and man’s baser qualities have a better chance of entering into the public business of any government.” If the TEC continues to display apathy or even tolerance to these facts, “public confidence in government” will cease sooner than later. With this in mind, we continue our call for the TEC to perform a complete audit of the campaign and PAC accounts related to our Texas Legislators. It only takes six votes.
You can review all of the figures here.
If you would like to file a complaint of your own with the TEC against any one of these lawmakers, you may do so by clicking the link below.