Ethics reform fight flares anew


State Sen. Brian Birdwell in his Granbury office in 2011.
State Sen. Brian Birdwell in his Granbury office in 2011. Star-Telegram

Early in last year’s legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott urged lawmakers to “dedicate this session to ethics.”

Abbott said he wanted to see ethics legislation that would accomplish several goals, including “more disclosure of campaign finance information.”

Legislators failed to deliver on sweeping reform, and forces are already lining up to keep it from being passed when the Legislature convenes again in January.

In particular, there is strong opposition to requiring more disclosure of political campaign spending by groups set up under a part of the tax code that allows them to withhold the names of donors.

Such disclosure requirements were part of last session’s Senate Bill 19, an omnibus ethics bill that was stymied in the final days of the 2015 session and did not pass.

That issue was in the background Wednesday as members of the Senate Committee on State Affairs, including state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, grilled Texas Ethics Commission Chairman Chase Untermeyer.

Untermeyer specifically and the Ethics Commission in general have been targeted by conservative groups as instigators of the push for disclosure reform. Empower Texans President Michael Quinn Sullivan recently referred to it in an email as an effort “to curtail political speech and make political association (against the establishment) just shy of criminal activity.”

Strong ethics laws and a strong Ethics Commission are essential parts of our state government. The Legislature must pass those laws and support the commission.