Naked City

Ethically Confused?

Last week Travis Co. Attorney Ken Oden told Naked City that his ethics investigation of state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, and former Rep. Rick Green, R-Dripping Springs, remains ongoing. The probe began last year in response to a complaint that the two legislators may have engaged in potentially illegal lobbying of the Texas Dept. of Health on behalf of their legal client, Metabolife Inc. State law forbids legislators from "representing another person for compensation" before state agencies, except for simply administrative matters or in proceedings that are adversarial and of public record.

The investigation "has continued," Oden said, "but in that process, state records also revealed representation for compensation by other legislators during the same time frame." Oden referred to employment described in legislators' personal financial-disclosure statements, and said that "out of fairness," his office is looking into the possibility that as many as 14 legislators performed some representation for compensation, and some may have at least technically violated the statute.

"Some of the work performed was clearly ministerial or public and therefore legal conduct," said Oden, "but there remain questions about other matters, and the investigation is continuing while we sort that out." He said there may be some "honest confusion about what you're allowed to do," because the statute as originally contemplated banned representation of any kind, "and the legislative process created these exceptions."

"The real question," in Oden's view, "is that the statute was intended to eliminate private, compensated conduct unknown to the public. If we find intentional conduct that meets that standard, it's a violation of the law and prosecutable." At a Capitol press conference last month, Green's Dist. 45 successor Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, accompanied by Wentworth, announced the filing of HB 456, which would prohibit any paid representation of any kind by legislators before any state agency. (An identical bill, HB 51, has been filed by Richardson Republican Fred Hill.) Last week, a Rose aide told Naked City that Rose has spoken to Speaker Tom Craddick about the legislation, and while the speaker did not declare his support for any particular bill, he said he is in favor this session of "ethics reform."

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