Abbott would support bill to ban 'double-dipping'

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist DENNIS THOMAS

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on November 14, 2013 at 7:14 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 14 at 7:31 PM

BELTON, Texas -- Speaking to supporters at a drilling equipment business in the Central Texas town of Belton, Republican candidate for governor Greg Abbott bored into a rocky issue for Texas lawmakers: ethics reform.

"You deserve to know more information," Abbott told the crowd of GOP faithful gathered Thursday afternoon at Belltec Industries.

As part of a sweeping policy paper unveiled this week dubbed "We the People," Abbott advocates strict new ethics reforms that would bring Texas' relatively loose campaign finance laws closer to federal requirements.

Among the proposals are new laws requiring politicians to disclose any contracts they or their spouse have with public entities or face a Class A Misdemeanor penalty. Abbott also advocates closing loopholes in current ethics rules, preventing lawmakers from voting on legislation they may financially benefit from, and make those who do subject to criminal or civil suits.

"The light needs to shine on public officials who are profiteering off the system," said Abbott.

Abbott advocates increasing campaign finance reporting from semi-annually to quarterly, and requiring immediate online disclosure before spending any contributions over $5,000 made in the final 30 days of a campaign. Abbott also took aim at school boards and districts which employ lobbyists.

"Districts should directly represent the needs of their schools at the Legislature and not waste taxpayer money on hiring lobbyists to do the job they were hired to do," said Abbott.

Asked whether such a policy could diminish the representation of public school interests at the Capitol, Abbott turned the focus to local board members and superintendents.

"If their voice is so diminished that they themselves cannot urge reforms, then maybe they need to look for a different job," said Abbott.

Absent from Abbott's proposals were two issues of frequent discussion when it comes to talk of ethics reform. Abbott said addressing so-called "dark money" donations to politically active non-profits that are currently not subject to disclosure laws may be problematic.

"There are challenges about that from the Supreme Court level that have to be dealt with from a constitutional perspective," said Abbott.

Yet Abbott broke with the state's current chief executive on the issue of "double-dipping." Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) officially retired in 2011 and began receiving his roughly $92,000 a year state pension, while continuing to receive his $150,000 salary as governor. The practice is legal, but led to at least one unsuccessful measure to ban the practice during the 83rd Texas Legislature.

"I don't think double-dipping should be allowed in the state of Texas. I think that voters and the body politic don't feel comfortable with it and I'm not for it," said Abbott. Asked whether he would support legislation to ban the practice, Abbott answered, "I would."

Abbott believes after the next round of elections, public pressure will push any reluctant lawmakers to accept the proposed reforms. He told KVUE, "The people of Texas are going to convince them."

The state's longest serving attorney general has also been named as a defendant in a new federal lawsuit filed by the Texas State Troopers Association (TSTA). The Department of Public Safety (DPS) and Office of the Attorney General (OAG) have both accused the non-profit of claiming to represent state troopers in order to solicit donations, most of which go towards paying outside telemarketers rather than helping members.

Earlier this year, Abbott's office submitted an Agreed Final Judgment, under which the association's current leadership would be forced to disband or face a $1 million fine. In the association's lawsuit, board members accused Abbott of "intimidation and discrimination against plaintiffs based on dislike and unpopularity." The lawsuit also accused the OAG's office of violating the association's First Amendment rights to free speech.

"Making seeming misrepresentations to line their own pockets is not free speech," Abbott said Thursday. "Misrepresentation is not free speech. Also, they're trying to use charity, which is getting certain tax breaks, in order to raise this money. If you're using tax breaks as opposed to normal business practices, there are certain higher standards you must comply with, and we believe they're not complying with those higher standards."

Abbott's policy proposals also include issues of personal privacy, gun rights and roadblocks to the Affordable Care Act.

Go here for the complete position paper.

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