After almost 21 months, the Texas Ethics Commission has fined state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown $2,000 for failing to report as income a new Mercedes Benz she drove, but that had been given to her husband by a state contractor.
Harper-Brown, R-Irving, was in violation of the law, the Commission decided, because she was in actual control of the $56,000 Mercedes-Benz E550 and failed to report it on her 2008 and 2009 state financial disclosure forms.
You can read the entire Ethics Commission decision here. The Commission reviewed the complaint filed in June of 2010 by Texas Values in Action Coalition, a Democratic Party action group, on Dec. 14.
Texas Watchdog this afternoon made a request for comment through an assistant for Harper-Brown in Austin and was awaiting a response.
Texas Watchdog has, for nearly three years, reported on complaints made against elected officials that have tested the spousal loophole. Rarely has the Ethics Commission decided an official has had actual control of property that has come from a spouse.
Harper-Brown set off a statewide debate on a loophole in the legal requirements for elected officials to report income when the income is generated through a spouse. Because the Legislation provided no definition for the concept of “actual control,” its interpretation is made on a case by case basis by the Ethics Commission.
Durable Enterprises Equipment Ltd., of Dallas, had for several years hired William Brown III to do accounting work for the company.
The company, the recipient of $8.2 million in state transportation contracts in 2009 and 2010, paid for some of the services by giving Brown the use of two company-owned vehicles. Brown turned the Mercedes Benz over to his wife, a member of the House Transportation Committee at the time.
When Harper-Brown applied for and received special legislative license plates for the car, the Values in Action Coalition complained the car was nowhere to be found on her financial disclosure records.
In the days that followed, Harper-Brown insisted to reporters she had violated no ethics laws. She continued to argue that she had done nothing wrong in an affidavit filed on Nov. 30, 2011 for the Ethics Commission.
She did, however, give up the car and announced her intention in the 2011 session of the Legislature introduce a bill to close the spousal loophole.
There is no record that Harper-Brown filed that legislation, and she has since avoided answering questions about it in several requests for an interview made by Texas Watchdog.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or email@example.com or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.
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Photo of Mercedes Benz hood ornament by flickr user tsand, used via a Creative Commons license.
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