I'm Shocked, Shocked to Find That Ethics Aren't Going On at City Hall. Not Really.
On May 12 I wrote a column quoting Dallas City Attorney Tom Perkins on why he had decided to write a proposed new ethics law for the city council. The new law he wrote was adopted unanimously by the council. It greatly relaxed restrictions on how soon after a city council vote the members of the council can seek money from the people whose issue they just voted on and how many people they can seek it from.
The new rules were: 1) Much sooner, and 2) Lots more people.
The rules slipped into law without public scrutiny because of a parliamentary trick. Later, when he was called on it, Perkins said he had proposed the new rules because he was getting complaints from citizens and companies who wanted the council to be able to call them up sooner seeking donations after a vote on their issue. I wrote in my column:
The post-Don-Hill-up-the-river ethics rules, Perkins said, were causing a hardship for companies that wanted to give more money to council members right after important votes. "That's the message we heard from businesses and companies that regularly do business before the city council," Perkins said.I was not able to cover last night's meeting of a special ad hoc committee convened to reconsider the relaxing of the rules. A story about it by Steve Thompson in today's Dallas Morning News quotes Perkins as giving a quite different explanation for where the rule changes came from. He says in Thompson's story: "That was a concern of some council members."
Council members asked for it. Not businesses and citizens.
Oh, I know...time for the Captain Renault line from Casablanca: We are shocked, shocked. But, look, it's easy to get too cynical about this stuff. This business is transparently outrageous, and we should be shocked, shocked.
The committee is recommending that some but not all of the new un-ethics rules be rescinded. The part somebody wants to hang on to is a new rule saying the council members are only barred from going after the top officers and representatives of a company whose issue they are voting on.
City Attorney Tom Perkins
The new rule changes the old rule, which was that they couldn't take money from anybody who worked for a company whose issue they were working on. Now they can take money from any and all employees except the top officers.
You know how that works right away, right? The council member says, "You can't give me the money, but your secretary can."
You see this principle all the time in campaign finance: There are households in the Park Cities where people have got their spouses and even their kids making $1,000 donations to Dallas city council members. I see those in the reports, and I try to imagine the conversation around the pool: "Son, you're only 12, but it's not too soon for you to begin learning how to flout ethics laws."
At last evening's meeting, Perkins said he felt the new law making it possible for council members to approach the employees of a company for donations was important because prohibiting those employees from coughing up might do damage to their constitutional right of free expression.
That's why I call him "Temerity Tom."
Hey. If the employees of those companies really feel that their constitutional right to be dunned for donations is being impaired by the city, then let them sue. In fact, do we believe that a single employee or citizen has ever complained?
Remember: Perkins said first he proposed the new un-ethics rules because of complaints from citizens. That story lasted three weeks. Now he's admitting the complaints came from the council, even though he won't say which members.
So now he says we have to keep the new looser rules on donations because we want to make sure we're not impinging on anybody's right of free speech. Forgive me, but I suspect very strongly that Temerity Tom has been instructed by some group on the council to keep this crucial window open so they can gouge more people for more money in exchange for their votes.
FBI agent Don Sherman: Are you out there?