Conflicts of Interest in Central Texas Politics: How Politicians Handle Them

Conflicts of interest are a common occurrence when politicians are involved in public contracts. Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, a nonpartisan group that advocates for public accountability, believes that the Lone Star State needs a “drastic revision” of its “useless ethics” to ensure transparency is integrated into the system. With such a wide range of interests at stake, conflicts are inevitable, which is why lobbyists are legally required to notify their clients if they represent two or more groups with opposing agendas. Lobbyists must also inform the Texas Ethics Commission of any potential conflict.

Dozens of pressure groups have done so in recent legislative sessions. The Texas Professional Defense Association, a professional lobbying group in Austin, stated that a conflict is a private matter that must be resolved by lobbyists and their clients. Employees must promptly report violations or suspected violations of these provisions, verbally or in writing, to their supervisor. Violation of this policy, related laws, or internal operating manuals related to ethics may be grounds for taking appropriate corrective or disciplinary measures, which may include dismissal. DFPS employees are encouraged to consult with their supervisor or an ethics advisor from the DFPS Ethics Office for advice on the DFPS Ethics Policy, including the standards of ethical conduct in section I, related laws, and internal agency operating manuals that address ethics.

Article XVI, section 40, of the Texas Constitution prohibits dual office under certain circumstances. However, the Texas Government Code states that this rule does not apply if the benefit a legislature could derive from a bill is the same as that of any other member of their industry. The Texas Tribune reviewed documents and found that several state legislators had participated in nearly 100 contracts with public entities. Criminal conflict of interest laws that apply to all employees are summarized in the corresponding sections of this policy and must be considered when determining whether conduct is appropriate. In addition to the DFPS ethics policy, the DFPS contract management manual, and the standards of conduct that apply to all state agency employees, employees who participate in hiring must comply with the Hiring Personnel Code of Ethics described in the Texas Administrative Code. West said that pushing legislation that could benefit a university where his law firm could work as a lawyer did not constitute a conflict of interest, stating that “the bills benefit the majority of Texas students”.

In addition to the ethical conduct rules in this section, there are federal and state conflict of interest laws that prohibit certain behaviors. Applicability to the county prosecutor of the conflict of interest provisions of chapter 171 of the Local Government Code and of the nepotism provisions of chapter 573 of the Government Code. Texas law prohibits state employees from offering, requesting, or accepting a gift in exchange for a decision, opinion, recommendation, vote, or other exercise of official discretion. Conflicts of interest can be difficult to navigate for politicians and citizens alike. It is important for everyone involved to understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to conflicts of interest in Central Texas politics. Lobbyists must be aware of potential conflicts and report them to their clients and the Texas Ethics Commission.

Employees must promptly report any violations or suspected violations to their supervisor. Politicians should be aware of any potential conflicts before pushing legislation that could benefit them personally. Finally, citizens should be aware of any potential conflicts between politicians and public entities.