Commentary

INK IN THE BLOOD

Double-dipping: nothing to do with ice cream
Willis Webb
Fella I knew long ago and his wife came to my house and, for a change, she was driving. When they got inside the house, I asked, “George, when did you start letting Delphinia drive? You always drive.”

“Ever since they passed them damn DWI laws,” George said with a poker face.

At least George was honest about his reason and he understood exactly what the law was about driving while intoxicated.

It seems, however, that some of our state legislators have difficulty understanding some of our laws, particularly ones about getting paid twice for something.

Rep. Joe Driver of Garland has pocketed thousands of dollars of our tax money for travel expenses for which his campaign fund has also reimbursed him. That is according to an investigation by the Associated Press.

Caught with his proverbial pants down, Driver had to admit it. He has been submitting the same receipts to the Texas House of Representatives that have also been submitted to his campaign fund.

Driver has been in office since 1992, but since some House travel records prior to 2005 have been destroyed (and, to me, that’s a whole ‘nother issue), there’s no way to match them up to his campaign reimbursement records for the entire 18 years.

In the period of time (since mid-2005) for which there are records for both his campaign and for the House, Driver has claimed more than $17,000 from the state, and that doesn’t include vehicle expenses. His campaign has paid out more than $100,000 in travel expenses since 2000.

His reimbursed expenses include luxury hotels, airline tickets, meals, fees and incidentals, according to AP’s study of state and campaign records.

Now, get this—Driver got elected partly because he promised voters and taxpayers that he was against taxes and “runaway government spending.” Promise them anything, but give them Arpege, as the old snobbish perfume ads used to say.

Driver told AP he thought it was all right to bill two entities—the state and his campaign fund—for identical expenses. Of course, since his campaign fund pays the expenses, he admitted to pocketing the state reimbursement. Campaign funds, if you need reminding, are donated money by people interested in seeing a candidate get elected.

It is completely legal to take campaign donations and reimburse the state for its payment of travel expenses of elected officials.

Prior to the AP investigation, Driver insisted he thought double billing was entirely appropriate.

Driver is a member of the very powerful House Appropriations Committee and formerly was chair of the House Law Enforcement Committee. No spending bill gets on the floor of the Texas House without an Appropriations okay.

According to a couple of ethics watchdogs contacted for the AP story, elected officials who submit the same expenses to two different entities could be liable under civil and criminal law.

There have been some ongoing efforts for state government ethics reform and one of the supporters of such an undertaking is Fred Lewis, who AP identified as an independent political watchdog. Lewis says Driver is probably not the only legislator double-dipping by getting paid for travel expenses with taxpayer money as well as by campaign donations.

Driver maintains that state ethics officials okayed his dual reimbursement years ago but could not, of course, give reporters any names who approved them.

He said he was told to just keep the state money and not reimburse his campaign for the travel expenses. Ethics Commission officials say they don’t provide that legal advice because campaign money can’t be, by state law, converted to personal use.

Rep. Driver has said he will pay back the state for any of the reimbursement he was not entitled to receive.

He is facing an opponent to his reelection in the November balloting. Driver’s campaign website states “taxpayers are in revolt against the big spending habits of liberals in government.”

Could it be that Driver believes the big spending habits he accuses his contemporaries of doesn’t apply to his own expense-double-dipping? Voters might see it a little differently.

Willis Webb is a retired community editor publisher of more than 50 years. Email him at wwebb@wildblue.net.


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2010-09-16 digital edition



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