Channel 2 Investigates: More ethics questions surround Rep. Jim Murphy

By Mario Diaz - Reporter

HOUSTON - There's more fallout from Channel 2 Investigates bombshell reports into State Representative Jim Murphy.

"I certainly think there is probable cause for any Texas District Attorney to open up an inquiry,” this said Hugh Brady, director of the Legislative Lawyering Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.

Murphy is the Houston lawmaker who on paper is a consultant for the Westchase District, but portrayed much differently elsewhere. Channel 2 Investigates clearly found him on websites and social media as their general manager.

In an interview last month, Murphy acknowledged it, saying, “Right, right, that is the role I play."

The role-play is a costly one for taxpayers. Rep. Murphy, a Republican who also chairs the House Committee on Special Purpose Districts, gets paid over $312,000 a year by the west Houston business district that bleeds into his legislative district.

Murphy's contracts also include “Special Projects” that pay thousands more, if he is able to accomplish such priorities as secure state funding for the Westchase District.

"It's seems pretty shocking,” is how Representative Sarah Davis described what Channel 2 Investigates uncovered.

Following an ethics hearing on Feb. 15, the chair of the General Investigating and Ethics committee says she want to probe Murphy over his contracts. “We will absolutely look at it," the committee said.

Sen. Paul Bettencourt, the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Government Reform, backs the investigation, "I think it's the right thing to do."

Now, another member of Murphy's own party is reacting. Rep. Todd Hunter, a member of the General Investigating and Ethics Committee during the 2015 legislative session, says, "He does appear to have a legal issue. I'd rather not comment at this time."

Hunter later emailed adding it might be an "interpretation issue.”

Channel 2 Investigates also has uncovered documents from last June showing Murphy offering his services to the Westwood Magnolia Parkway Improvement District in Montgomery County. It came just weeks after his committee unanimously approved the district's modification. The documented offer comes four days after the district became law without the Governor's signature.

Murphy then provided an overview of his services to the board, highlighting his “Government Relations” as well as “District Creation and Modification.”

Murphy even included his personal, "RepJimMurphy" email address at the bottom.

Current Executive Director Rob Eissler pushed to bring Murphy on board, which they did. Coincidentally, Eissler is a former state representative and colleague of Murphy's in the house.

"Well it looks they were hiring Murphy because he was a legislator and because he was chairman of the committee that passed their bill,” says Brady, who has worked on ethics issues with Democrats and Republicans from the White House to the State Capitol.

After examining the document showing the description of services provided, Brady said Murphy was lobbying. “So right here it says ‘Jim's accomplishments include developing and negotiating groundbreaking economic and infrastructure development agreements with state, county and municipal leaders along with private sector owners.”

When asked what that is, Brady without hesitation said, “That is lobbying."

Brady goes on to further break down the practice in the Lone Star state, "Lobbying in Texas is making a communication with one or more state officials to influence administrative or executive action and if he is negotiating an agreement that is influencing state action.” As to whether or not Murphy can do that, Brady said, “Under the laws that's written today, no he cannot."

As for the district attorney investigation referenced earlier, Brady says Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg should be taking a look. "I think she ought to start."

Murphy did email Channel 2 Investigates.

He made it clear that he is hanging his hat on a 2005 Attorney General's opinion that he says “does not prohibit a member of the Texas Legislature from also working for compensation as an independent contractor for a municipal management district.”

Murphy went on to add, “I’m pleased to discuss the AG’s opinion and the facts with my colleagues, Chair Davis and Senator Bettencourt about these matters.”

Brady says that what Channel 2 Investigates has uncovered does not reflect the AG’s opinion, and if it does, “then there is a loophole big enough to drive a Mack Truck through in the law that ought to be closed.”

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