(Special update 6/24/2016 at the end.)
While holding themselves out as the arbiters of ethics for all officials elected and unelected in Texas, the Texas Ethics Commission has been secretly harboring an unethical secret: half of the commissioners are creating regulations, issuing rulings and handing out fines without actually holding current appointments to the commission.
These commissioners are known as “holdovers.” They were previously appointed, but their appointments have expired so they remain in office until a new appointment is made.
The state constitution provision to which these commissioners cling – and applies to all officeholders in the state – presumes short delays, not a de facto lifetime appointment. Especially considering that the state constitution actually places a strict term limit on appointees to the Ethics Commission, it makes extended stays all the more unethical.
Perhaps the most unethical of all is Tom Harrison. He is the newly installed vice chairman of the commission, a position to which he was elevated by his fellow holdover appointees. Harrison is constitutionally ineligible from being appointed to the commission. He was twice appointed to the commission, with his last term expiring in November of 2011.
That means Harrison has been working to pass new rules attacking citizens’ First Amendment rights, undermining the freedom of speech, and restricting the freedoms of association and political participation for five years longer than is allowed by the state constitution!
If Harrison had wanted to act honorably and ethically, he would have sometime in 2012 stopped attending the commission meetings. He could have made a continuing series of public statements denouncing a flawed appointment process. But he did not.
Instead, Harrison quietly kept on regulating speech and undermining constitutional liberties from his anonymous post on a commission that was established solely for the constitutional purpose of “setting the per diem” of legislators and recommending adjustments to lawmakers’ salaries to the public. (Everything else they do was established by statute by the Democrat majorities of the 1990s, or by their own rule making.)
If Tom Harrison, Bob Long, Wilhelmina Delco and Paul Hobby had ethics, they wouldn’t continue to officially act from their expired perches on the Texas Ethics Commission. If they had a sense of professional or political ethics, they would publicly renounce a process that has allowed them to take official actions beyond the expiration of their appointments.
But none of them have, and it is unlikely any of them will. All four have promoted unconstitutional rules while using their little known official positions to punish the political opponents of their pals and cronies.
Half of the state’s “ethics” commissioners are acting without appointment and to the detriment of the letter and spirit of the state and federal constitutions and laws. It’s time for the Texas Ethics Commission to be abolished so that ethics in Texas government can be restored.
After having his record publicly being exposed, Tom Harrison abruptly resigned his office on Friday.