Ethics lawyer says State Rep. Jim Murphy 'takes the cake' regarding conflict of interest

By Mario Diaz - Reporter

HOUSTON - Ethics questions are growing tonight, surrounding State Rep. Jim Murphy.

Wednesday night, Channel 2 Investigates revealed Murphy (R-Houston), holds two paying government positions, even earning bonuses for securing state funds with one of them.

One job is in the Legislature, the other, he admits, pays a yearly salary of over $312,000 for running the Westchase District in West Houston.

"If the goal of these contracts is to get favors out of Austin by hiring a state (representative), they seem to be an effective mechanism for figuring out how to wire the system in an unethical way,” says Cris Feldman, a Houston attorney and government ethics expert with vast experience working around Texas politics.

"Corruption in Austin is fish in a barrel," Feldman says.

So how has Murphy managed to fly under the ethics radar for more than a decade?

In 2005, then-Attorney General Greg Abbott stated in an opinion that an independent contractor for a municipal management district is not prohibited from serving as a member of the Legislature.

They have to be a contractor, not an employee.

Channel 2 Investigates reviewed Texas Workforce Commission and IRS regulations covering the difference between a contractor and an employee.

They include the contractor having a company email address, continuous long term work, are they being portrayed as an employee to the public, as well as travel reimbursements. Murphy not only checks the box on those but more.

Aside from admitting to receiving bonuses from the Westchase District for securing state funding, in the Legislature, Murphy is the the chair of the Houston Committee on Special Purpose Districts. Which means he has oversight of the special purpose districts across the state, including the one paying him in excess of $312,000 a year.

“I would say Representative Murphy pretty much takes the cake. He seems to have perfected the art of conflict of interest and how to personally profit from it," Feldman said.

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