Ethics Lawyer Changes Places

Texas Ethics Commission executive director Karen Lundquist moves on

The Texas Ethics Commission, one of the most identity-challenged agencies in the state, will mount a search this week for a new executive director to replace outgoing chief Karen Lundquist, who leaves her post Friday.

Lundquist has accepted a position as the deputy ethics adviser in the general counsel office at UT. She has spent nine years at the ethics commission, but it was her last year and a half – during her tenure as executive director – that may have contributed to her decision to leave, agency observers say. But Lundquist this week had only good things to say about the agency and her staff. "I love this job and I love the function that we serve," she said. The UT opportunity, she added, was too good to pass up. Her new job will also entail tracking and analyzing legislation affecting the UT system.

The Ethics Commission, meanwhile, will meet Friday to determine a search process for Lundquist's replacement, and may name an acting chief, possibly the agency's general counsel, Sarah Woelk. Lundquist and Woelk came under fire earlier this year when lawyers for Texans for a Republican Majority claimed Woelk was politically biased in interpreting state campaign-finance laws. Woelk's interpretation held that the Republican group's PAC was required to file campaign-expenditure reports with the state that detailed how it spent $600,000 in corporate donations in the 2002 legislative elections. Lundquist had previously made the same interpretation, but GOP lawyers jumped on Woelk's comments, creating a circuitous link between Woelk and David Richards, a San Francisco lawyer and one of the attorneys representing Democratic candidates suing TRMPAC. Richards, the ex-husband of former Gov. Ann Richards, has an office in the Austin law firm of Phil Durst, who is Woelk's husband. Richards is a former partner there and reportedly serves in an advisory capacity.

The $600,000 question is at the center of the civil litigation and a criminal investigation into whether TRMPAC illegally used corporate money to tilt the 2002 legislative elections toward the GOP. Lundquist would not comment on the short-lived brouhaha that TRMPAC tried to stir up. "Our job is to be nonpartisan and to explain the law," she said. "That's what Sarah and I both do."

Fred Lewis, executive director of Campaigns for People, praised Lundquist and her staff as "very good, honest people." But he said the commission is limited in what it's supposed to do, which is essentially to keep elected officials honest. "It's structured in such a way that it can't function," he said. "It's going to have to be restructured in order to do its job."

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state politics, Texas Ethics Commission, Karen Lundquist, Sarah Woelk, Texans for a Republican Majority, TRMPAC

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