By Erik Telford
A complaint was filed recently with the Texas Ethics Commission against Wendy Davis, the pink-clad, pro-choice poster girl for the professional left, who is running for governor.
NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME: Hollywood seemed ready to cast Wendy Davis as the strong female lead in a progressive fantasy of turning Texas blue, but with ongoing allegations of fraud, irregularities and exaggerations — in her personal life and now in the official records — she’s looking much more like the villain.
The complaint alleges serious irregularities in the personal financial statements Davis is required to disclose as a Texas state senator.
These allegations would threaten to seriously damage the credibility of most politicians, but for Davis — already beset by a firestorm of questions about her embellished personal story — they are merely one more facet in a broader narrative of fraud.
For most other politicians, these allegations of repeated and seemingly deliberate failure to live up to the state’s most basic ethical requirements would be befuddling, as no ambitious lawmaker would want to risk their reputation and future and office to cover up their business activities and relationships with lobbyists. But Wendy Davis is hardly a typical politician, and the events of the past few weeks have proven that she’s not above letting the truth get in the way of a compelling narrative.
The gentle unraveling of Davis’ much-heralded personal story may well be the undoing of her campaign. Texans weren’t as intrigued by Davis the pro-choice hero as they were by the story of a poor single mother who worked her way through Harvard. Now that Davis’ poorness, singleness, and motherness all seem to have been exaggerated, the bloom is off the rose, and the stem doesn’t look too appealing.
Davis didn’t help herself by shamefully alluding to the disability of her opponent, who has otherwise played no role in her month of horror.
Texas state law requires legislators to disclose their personal income and assets — bank accounts, real estate, stocks, business partnerships and other forms of wealth. The complaint against Davis alleges that she persistently chose to disclose only a portion of her assets and failed on several occasions to report ownership of and gains from multiple mutual funds, as well as interest earned on several bank accounts.
In fact, alleged financial irregularities were found on three of the four annual reports — 2010, 2011 and 2012 — that Davis has submitted since joining the Texas Senate.The money Davis failed to properly report totals nearly $50,000.
Curiously, the senator reported ownership of these same mutual funds and significant gains and losses in her tax returns for each year in question. Nor can she believably claim — as she very well may attempt — that she was unaware of the disclosure requirements, since the vast majority of her 180 colleagues in the Legislature had no problem figuring out what they were required by law to disclose. And most of those folks didn’t go to Harvard Law School!
Compounding Davis’ transparency problems is the fact that she also allegedly failed to disclose her ties to lobbyists who work at the same law firm as her. Although Davis did disclose ties to some lobbyists, it’s perplexing that she would decline to acknowledge her relationships with some of her coworkers, especially since the penalties for violating the Texas Ethics Code are far steeper than whatever small stigma may come from working alongside lobbyists.
Hollywood seemed ready to cast Wendy Davis as the strong female lead in a progressive fantasy of turning Texas blue, but with ongoing allegations of fraud, irregularities and exaggerations — in her personal life and now in the official records — she’s looking much more like the villain.
The script has flipped in Texas, and the next 10 months of The Wendy Davis Story may be the ugliest yet.
Erik Telford is senior vice president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.