POSTED: Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 1:33pm
UPDATED: Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 1:44pm
AUSTIN, Texas — Members of a powerful legislative committee on Wednesday rebuked freshman Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, over a transparency bill he filed that would require legislators to disclose government contracts with businesses in which they or their family own at least a 50 percent stake.
Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, a member of the House State Affairs Committee, painted Capriglione’s House Bill 524 as a “vendetta” and called the legislator “sour grapes," accusing him of bringing politics — and in particular his successful effort to unseat former state Rep. Vicki Truitt — into his lawmaking.
“There’s a concern you’ve got bad motives,” Hilderbran said.
Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, and Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, spoke more directly about the legislation; she suggested that no one other than the legislator should be subject to such disclosure, while he argued it could put businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
Watchdogs said the hearing underscored the difficulty of floating tougher ethics laws in a Legislature that has traditionally resisted broad disclosure of their private affairs.
"It’s no surprise that Rep. Capriglione was greeted with hostility," said Craig McDonald, executive director for the liberal money-in-politics group Texans for Public Justice. "When you threaten the privileges and secrets of the club, you’re treated as a traitor."
Capriglione, who seemed unprepared for the line of questioning about Truitt, argued that he does not have bad motives, and added that the bill "was one of my campaign promises." He did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
But when Hilderbran used an iPad to pull up Capriglione’s attack website against Truitt, asking, "Are you proud of this?" and "You must be afraid that she's running again," Capriglione said he would try to take the website down.
Capriglione, who has made transparency a centerpiece of his early days in the Legislature, has a Senate sponsor for the bill — Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Davis came under fire from her Republican opponent during her own re-election campaign for not disclosing her law firm’s public-sector clients. She has said the bill would require conflicts, or the perception of them, to be aired.
Huberty said at Wednesday's hearing that he worries the measure could inadvertently reveal a competitive business strategy.
Hypothetically speaking, he said, “You’re going to take my entire business model and [you are] going to show all my competitors my business model."
Harless said family shouldn't bear the burden of disclosure, adding that "if we’re looking just at the ethics of the person who’s running a race, then it just needs to be that person.”
In his closing statement, Capriglione said he would consider excluding siblings from the disclosure policy and limiting reporting amount to $10,000 or more. He said he thinks the Texas House already has far better ethics and trust than Congress — and that the disclosure bill would raise the state "to another level."