More than 260 candidates owe the state of Texas $1.1 million in fines for failing to file legally required campaign finance reports. Loopholes in enforcement make it difficult to collect the fines or punish the delinquents.
An investigation by KXAN-TV in Austin of the Texas Ethics Commission’s Delinquent Filer List and other public records going back to 2005 found another 174 candidates have run up $114,500 in fines for failing to file a legally required Personal Financial Statement. The investigation found 74 lobbyists who owe a total of $74,500 in fines for failing to file required disclosure documents with the state.
State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, who is running for reelection while he appeals a criminal conviction, is the current king of unfiled campaign reports, currently owing the state $52,000 in fines, as The Texas Monitor recently reported.
According to the Commission’s current list, the others in the top five are: Joe Foster Jr., a candidate for district judge in Alpine who owes $30,500; Christopher Christal, a candidate for state Senate from San Antonio who owes $22,500; Jesus Mendoza, a candidate for state representative from Lewisville who owes $22,500; and Wesley Shane Nelson, a candidate for state representative from Grand Prairie who owes $21,500.
The investigation found nothing in the law requiring the Ethics Commission to pursue delinquent campaign finance reports with a local prosecutor or the state Attorney General. And while the law requires the commission to do so with a failure to file the personal financial statements, commission records made it “impossible” to determine to what degree it was in compliance.
The commission had no enforcement director until 2015.
“We don’t know the referral rate,” Ethics Commission chairman Steve Wolens told KXAN. Citing “holes” in the commission’s internal recordkeeping, Wolens said there was no way to know between 2005 and 2013 who the TEC was supposed to have referred to prosecutors, or if the commission ever did. “We can’t figure it out.”
State records collected by KXAN show the Ethics Commission has referred some of the delinquencies to the AG’s office, not for prosecution but for collection of campaign finance reporting and other ethics violation fines.
From the beginning of 2013 and the end of 2017, the Ethics Commission submitted $1.2 million in fines for collection, of which the AG collected just less than $300,000, or about 24 percent of the total, according to the investigation.
Between 2013-2016, the Ethics Commission asked the Travis County Attorney’s office to prosecute 26 people for failing to file campaign forms. Of the 10 criminal charges brought, eight cases were dismissed and two are pending, according to the investigation.
On Jan. 28, according to records, the Ethics Commission referred three more candidates and two lobbyists to the county attorney for prosecution.