342 Texas officials, candidates have unpaid ethics fines

Investigations
Ron Reynolds

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the Texas Ethics Commission closed its books on 2018, the list of officeholders and candidates who owe the state ethics fines grew to some of the highest totals in years. The fines come after a candidate fails to file campaign finance reports on time. 

Or, fails to file them at all. 

The latest ethics commission data shows 342 candidates and officeholders refused to pay more than $1.3 million in fines. That list includes seven district court judges, four current and former members of the Texas House and 77 Texas attorneys. 

The person with the highest amount of unpaid ethics fines is Democrat House member, Rep. Ron Reynolds of Fort Bend. Reynolds currently owes the state $52,500 in unpaid fines. Reynolds won re-election in November as he sat inside a Montgomery County jail cell. 

Reynolds was convicted of five counts of barratry in 2015 and was out of jail on bond while he appealed his convictions. Reynolds lost his final appeal in 2018 and was ordered to serve a 12-month jail sentence on the charges. 

Reynolds was booked into the Montgomery County jail Sept. 7 and is still listed as an inmate in custody there. 

Reynolds shares the debtors list with former House member, Dawnna Dukes. Dukes, a Travis County Democrat, lost her re-election bid last March. At the time of our initial investigation, Dukes owed $500 in ethics fines for missing a filing deadline. Since that time, Dukes’ unpaid ethics fines have exploded to $10,500, according to ethics commission records. 

Outgoing House member Rep. Diana Arevalo – who lost her re-election bid in November – owes a $500 ethics fine, ethics records show. The ethics commission told KXAN Thursday following the report that Arevalo’s fine has “been resolved and their names were inadvertently left on the delinquent filer list. We apologize for the error,” the commission’s general counsel wrote in an email Thursday morning. 

Messages sent to Dukes and Arevalo have not yet been returned. 

Texas law does not prevent any of the 342 people currently on the debtors list from holding office or seeking re-election. Rep. Celia Israel told KXAN last February that she would look at introducing legislation that would ensure debtors are punished or would potentially ban debtors from running for office again. 

Israel – who shares a seat on the House Elections Committee with Rep. Reynolds – has not yet filed a bill to address the ethics debtor issue. Israel told KXAN Wednesday she “did not have any plans” to file a bill to address this issue. 

Lawmakers have until March 15 to file bills to be considered in the upcoming legislative session. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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