Lawmakers didn't act to limit their financially beneficial votes
On his way to becoming governor, Greg Abbott said state law should bar legislators from voting on legislation resulting in "any pecuniary gain through employment, contracts, subcontracts, contingency fees, referral fees, or agreements."
In his campaign's compendium of his gubernatorial goals, Abbott criticized existing state law intended to bar legislators from casting votes that directly benefit a business or business deal in which they have a controlling interest.
Abbott said the law had three problems:
- Legislators interpret the law to mean they can vote on any proposal so long as it affects an entire industry, not just their own specific business;
- The law doesn't proscribe a vote when a legislator might gain financially to any degree;
- The law lacks an enforcement mechanism to ensure conflicted legislators don't cast inappropriate votes anyway.
Alternatively, Abbott said, votes cast in violation of the law should be a Class A misdemeanor and private citizens should have the right to sue a member for any violation of the conflict-of-interest law.
Abbott also called for more sweeping restrictions on legislative votes by adding spouses and any pecuniary gain to the equation and mandating that members file a written notice before offering a measure if a close relative is a lobbyist on the matter or if the member has a controlling interest in an affected entity or stands to gain financially from the change in law.
In the 2015 legislative session, however, no such proposal made it to Abbott, his office acknowledged in a June 2015 document detailing legislation in keeping with his goals that did advance.
By telephone, Carol Birch, legislative counsel in the Texas office of Public Citizen, the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that calls itself the "countervailing force to corporate power," pointed out a proposal by Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, potentially imposing what Birch called "minor restrictions" on legislators voting on measures benefiting themselves. House Bill 3945, filed in March 2015, did not draw a hearing.
We're marking this an Abbott PROMISE BROKEN.
Promise Broken – The promise has not been fulfilled. This could occur because of inaction by the executive or lack of support from the legislative branch or other group that was critical for the promise to be fulfilled. A Promise Broken rating does not necessarily mean that the executive failed to advocate for the policy.
News story, "Gubernatorial candidate Abbott calls for greater privacy protections, legalizing open carry," the Associated Press, Nov. 14, 2013
Document, "Bicentennial Blueprint, Greg Abbott's Working Texans Plan," Oct. 28, 2013
Document, "Blueprint Bills," Gov. Greg Abbott, June 2015 (sent by email from Matt Hirsch, communications director, Gov. Abbott's office, to Jonathan Tilove, chief political writer, Austin American-Statesman, June 18, 2015)
Telephone interviews, Carol Birch, legislative counsel, Texas office, Public Citizen, Austin, June 29 and July 2, 2015
Legislation, House Bill 3945, 2015 legislative session, Texas Legislative Council (accessed July 2, 2015)