in Houston, Texas

Public can take closer look at legislators' finances via interactive map

Wednesday, Oct 22, 2008, 11:04AM CST
By Jennifer Peebles
Football tickets from Texas Tech, paintings representing West Texas and "One Nation Under God," and a .38-caliber pistol: They're all examples of some of the gifts received by Texas' legislators last year.

Lawmakers and other Texas officials are required to disclose gifts worth $250 or more by listing them on personal financial disclosure reports collected by the Texas Ethics Commission. The law also requires them to list sources of income for themselves, their spouses and their dependent children, stock holdings, business interests, travel funded by outside sources, and any business in which they are involved with a lobbyist, among other items.

Those forms are public record, but they're not usually available online -- the state Ethics Commission collects them and scans them in, but does not post them on its Web site. But Texas Watchdog is making the 2008 forms of all the incumbent state legislators and several other state officials available today on its Web site, www.texaswatchdog.org. The forms cover the 2007 calendar year.

Texas Watchdog has also integrated the digitized forms into an interactive Google Map, which can be accessed for free through any Internet browser. Don't know which legislator is yours? Take a gander at the map and find your town -- your legislator's address shouldn't be too far away.

Texas Watchdog also wants your help.

Look at the disclosure forms for your lawmakers -- did they fail to report income or a business dealing you know they're in on? Do they own land they didn't disclose on the form? Do you recall them voting on an issue in which, according to their disclosure form, they had a conflict of interest? Texas Watchdog wants to know. Drop us a note at news@texaswatchdog.org.

Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, a Kerrville Republican, reported receiving football tickets from Texas Tech, his alma mater (Class of '83). Rep. Warren Chisum got a framed picture, titled "One Nation Under God," as a gift from the Free Market Foundation of Plano. And House Speaker Tom Craddick got the West Texas scene painting, a gift from the friends of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa, to which Craddick has helped steer funding.

But our legislature, not only do they receive, they also give -- to each other. Rep. Vicki Truitt, a Keller Republican, got a gift certificate to the Spa at the Village in Colleyville from the members of the House Committee on Pensions and Investments, which she chairs. Hilderbran was given a lifetime hunting license by six fellow House members. House Speaker Tom Craddick got a "fruit and sweet" epergne from members of the House (gotta keep the boss happy).

And is Rep. Warren Chisum the pistol-packer from Pampa? He listed getting a "Colt .38 Super semi-automatic handgun in box" from the members of the House Appropriations Committee that he chairs. Chisum was named to head that committee last year after then-chairman Jim Pitts led a failed palace revolt on Craddick. (Don't step out of line, now, committee members: This chairman may be armed.)

Speaking of Pitts: The guy's got a pretty well-rounded stock portfolio -- or, as round as one can have a stock portfolio in these strange times on Wall Street. Craddick and Rep. Byron Cook both hold bonds or notes from numerous local government agencies inside and outside of Texas -- Craddick listed holdings with the Ennis Independent School District, the Dallas water and sewer system, and the schools in Louisville, Ky., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Rep. Craig Eiland, a Galveston Democrat, listed owning less than 500 shares in each of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and AIG -- let's hope he's making up for those with the 500-999 shares he reported as owning in J.P. Morgan Chase.

So, why isn't this stuff online already?

The state Ethics Commission says the law is in the way.

"We have to abide by the statuatory provisions," said Ethics Commission spokesman and Deputy General Counsel Tim Sorrells. Specifically, state law says that any time someone asks to see a lawmaker's disclosure form, they have to fill out a form of their own, identifying themselves.

That's a sure-fire way to scare off a great many people who might otherwise want to see those forms -- yeah, you'd like to see it, but do you really want to risk getting a phone call at 11 p.m. from Senator So-and-So, demanding to know why you're snooping into his affairs? The law also dates from a pre-Internet time -- information gets around a lot easier now, guys. And with less collating.

Not that the Ethics Commission folks aren't helpful. When Texas Watchdog put in a request for the forms from all 181 members of the legislature, plus the governor, lieutenant governor, and the like, the Ethics Commission put PDFs of the forms on a computer disc and mailed it to us. Total cost: $3 and change. (Most bulk requests to see the forms come from the media, Sorrells said.)

Texas Watchdog's report today is the first time Texas lawmakers' disclosure forms have been made available en masse online since the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity's national project to post disclosure forms from lawmakers in all 50 states. Five years' worth of state officials' disclosure forms, from 2002-06, are still available online at the center's Web site.

While the repository of documents has obvious appeal to journalists, said center spokesman Steve Carpinelli, "it's great for citizens, because they can then keep tabs on their legislator or governor." And while the center hasn't updated its pages in a while -- it's hard to keep all those records current for all 50 states -- having that older information out there is still helpful to the public, Carpinelli said, such as when people flocked to the center's Web site to check out the past disclosure forms filed by a certain governor of Alaska.

The center's 2006 survey of the states' disclosure laws ranked Texas as third best in the nation at the time, outranked only by Washington state and Hawaii.

Mapping the disclosure forms


An interactive Google Map by Texas Watchdog, using records from the Texas Ethics Commission. Click on the map to see it larger. Or, click here to go directly to our text-only list of disclosure form links.

View Larger Map


Statewide offices


Gov. Rick Perry
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst
Agriculture Commissioner D. Todd Staples
Attorney General Greg Abbott
Secretaries of State Phil Wilson and Esperanza (Hope) Andrade
Comptroller Susan Combs
Land Commissioner Jerry E. Patterson
Railroad Commissioner Victor G. Carrillo
Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth A. Jones
Railroad Commissioner Michael L. Williams

Senators

Kip Averitt, 22
Kim Brimer, 10
John Carona, 16
Bob Deuell, 2
Robert Duncan, 28
Rodney Ellis, 13
Kevin Eltife, 1
Craig Estes, 30
Troy Fraser, 24
Mario Gallegos Jr., 6
Chris Harris, 9
Glenn Hegar, 18
Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, 20
Mike Jackson, 11
Eddie Lucio Jr., 27
Jane Nelson, 12
Robert Nichols, 3
Steve Ogden, 5
Dan Patrick, 7
Kel Seliger, 31
Florence Shapiro, 8
Eliot Shapleigh, 29
Carlos Uresti, 19
Leticia Van de Putte, 26
Kirk Watson, 14: Disclosure form and corrective form
Jeff Wentworth, 25
Royce West, 23
John Whitmire, 15
Tommy Williams, 4
Judith Zaffirini, 21

House members

Alma A. Allen, 131
Roberto Alonzo, 104: Feb. 19 form and March 18 form
Rafael Anchia, 103
Charles "Doc" Anderson, 56
Jimmie Don Aycock, 54
Kevin Bailey, 140
Dan Barrett, 97
Leo Berman, 6
Dwayne Bohac, 138
Valinda Bolton, 47
Dennis Bonnen, 25
Dan Branch, 108
Betty Brown, 14
Fred Brown, 14
Lon Burnam, 90
William "Bill" Callegari, 132
Joaquin Castro, 125
Norma Chavez, 76
Warren Chisum, 88
Wayne Christian, 9
Ellen Cohen, 134
Garnet F. Coleman, 147
Byron Cook, 8
Robert "Robby" Cook, 17
Frank Corte Jr., 122
Joe Crabb, 127
House Speaker Tom Craddick, 82
Brandon Creighton, 16
Myra Crownover, 64
Drew Darby, 72
John E. Davis, 129
Yvonne Davis, 111
Joe D. Deshotel, 22
Joe Driver, 113
Dawnna Dukes, 46
Jim Dunnam, 57
Harold V. Dutton Jr., 142
Craig Eiland, 23
Rob Eissler, 15
Gary Elkins, 135
Kirk England, 106
Juan Manuel Escobar, 43
David Farabee, 69
Joe Farias, 118
Jessica Christina Farrar, 148
Ismael "Kino" Flores, 36
Dan Flynn, 2
Stephen Frost, 1
Pete Gallego, 74
Juan M. Garcia, 32
Dan Gattis, 20
Charlie Geren, 99
Helen Giddings, 109
Veronica Gonzales, 41
Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, 35
Tony Goolsby, 102
Ryan Guillen, 31
Roland Gutierrez, 119
Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton, 19
Kelly Hancock, 91
Rick Hardcastle, 68
Patricia Harless, 126
Linda Harper-Brown, 105
Will Hartnett, 114
Joe Heflin, 85
Ana E. Hernandez, 143
Abel Herrero, 34
Harvey Hilderbran, 53
Fred Hill, 112
Scott Hochberg, 137
Terri Hodge, 100
Mark Homer, 3
Chuck Hopson, 11
Charlie F. Howard, 26
Donna Howard, 48
Bryan Hughes, 5
Carl H. Isett, 84
Jim Jackson, 115
Delwin Jones, 83
Jim Keffer, 60
Phil King, 61
Susan King, 71
Tracy O. King, 80
Lois W. Kolhorst, 13
Mike Krusee, 52
Edmund Kuempel, 44
Thomas Latham, 101
Jodie Anne Laubenberg, 89
David McQuade Leibowitz, 117
Eddie Lucio III, 38
Nathan Macias, 73
Jerry Madden, 67
Barbara Mallory Caraway, 110
Trey Martinez Fischer, 116
Armando "Mando" Martinez, 39
Brian McCall, 66
Ruth McClendon, 120
Jim McReynolds, 12
Jose Menendez, 124
Tommy Merritt, 7
Borris Miles, 146
Sid Miller, 59
Paul Moreno, 77
Geanie Morrison, 30
Jim Murphy, 133
Elliott Naishtat, 49: Complete form and brief corrective form
Rick Noriega, 145
Rene O. Oliveira, 37
Dora Olivo, 27
Rob Orr, 58
Solomon Ortiz Jr., 33
John Otto, 18
Mike O'Day, 29
Tan Parker, 63
Diane Patrick, 94
Ken Paxton, 70
Aaron Pena, 40
Larry Phillips, 62
Joe Pickett, 79
Paula Pierson, 93
Jim Pitts, 10
Chente Quintanilla, 75
Richard Pena Raymond, 42
Debbie Riddle, 150
Allan Ritter, 21
Eddie Rodriguez, 51
Patrick M. Rose, 45
Todd Smith, 92
Wayne Smith, 128
John T. Smithee, 86
Burt R. Solomons, 65
Mark Strama, 50
Joe Straus, 121
David Swinford, 87
Robert Talton, 144
Larry Taylor, 24
Senfronia Thompson, 141
Sylvester Turner, 139
Vicki Truitt, 98
Corbin Van Arsdale, 130
Allen Vaught, 107
Marc Veasey, 95
Michael Villarreal, 123
Hubert Vo, 149
Beverly Woolley, 96
Bill Zedler, 96
John Zerwas, 28

(Picture by flickr user quantumdtell, used via the Creative Commons license.)

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