Haunted by the specters of Frank Sinatra Jr., J. Paul Getty III and the Lindbergh Baby, a Sunset Advisory Commission made up mostly of legislators thought it best that kidnappers and other citizens not be able to see the legally required, publicly available financial disclosure statements of legislators online.
The decision, reported today by the Austin American-Statesman, was an expression of confidence that the ancient inconvenience of a trip to Austin to view the the documents in person was sufficient to deter a crime that cost Sinatra’s father a lot of money, Getty his right ear and the Lindbergh child his life.
Research staff for the commission had recommended the Texas Ethics Commission post all of the documents on its website, something Texas Watchdog has championed since its founding nearly four years ago. (View forms for 2008, 2009 and 2010 here.)
State Sens. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, vice chairman of the Commission, and member Joan Huffman, R-Houston, thought the gesture of government transparency rash.
Nichols told fellow commission members he personally knew of two people whose children were kidnapped because it was known that they had a lot of money. Huffman suggested that a citizen or organization with good intentions ought to be willing to make a disclosure sojourn.
Sunset Advisory’s decision is another rejection of staff recommendations to make the Ethics Commission tougher. In April, the commission chose not to recommend the Ethics Commission budget be increased to create an enforcement component to investigate ethics violations by elected officials and others in state politics.
Good government groups have long contended that without real enforcement the Ethics Commission cannot do the job it was created in January of 1992 to do.
The reason the Ethics Commission has always come up short, the critics say, is that it is an institution created by legislators to regulate legislators.
That same criticism - the co-opting of real reform by politicians - has also been levelled at the Sunset Advisory Commission, created more than 30 years ago to hold state agencies, commissions and councils accountable for their performance.
Case in point: Sunset Advisory staff recommended the new technology needed to pay for online financial disclosure could be paid for by increasing the filing fees charged to legislators.
By rejecting the proposal, a protective commission was able to save its members and the rest of the Legislature some money and avert a potential crime wave, to boot.
We’re sure that more than a few of those grateful legislators are tugging on their right ear lobes while reading this. Just to make sure.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or email@example.com or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.
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Photo cropped from poster online at FBI account of Lindbergh kidnapping.