HOUSTON - Look up the word ethics and one will find a definition that reads as, “The discipline dealing with what is good and bad with moral duty and obligation."
Moral duty and obligation can be found on any given day at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Drivers feel it is their duty and obligation to pay for a new license or registration to avoid being handed a fine. Drivers are not the only ones being held accountable. Teachers strive to stay compliant in the eyes of the Texas Education Agency, and if a teacher falls behind on their student loan payments, they can have their license recertification placed on hold.
However, in Austin an elected official can rack up fine after fine after fine and still be ... just fine.
State Rep. Ron Reynolds is the prime example. Since 2011, he has represented the state's 27th District in Fort Bend County. Reynolds is no stranger to the state's ethics commission. As of Jan. 26, he's at the top of the list for delinquent lawmakers, owing more than $52,000 in ethics fines for failure to comply with campaign laws. For nearly two years, Reynolds did not file personal and campaign finance reports.
When asked if the number was accurate, Reynolds said, I'm not sure if that's accurate.” When pressed by Channel 2 Investigates, he did state, “That number is coming down because we've been paying on this fine ..."
But Reynolds admits that he still owes approximately $50,000.
State Rep. Sarah Davis, after last month's House ethics commission hearing in Austin, told Channel 2 Investigates she has issues with the lack of accountability. The committee chair made it clear that, "It doesn't seem ... that this is going on."
Hugh Brady, director of the Legislative Lawyering Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, says failure to file deprives voters of key information.
"If you don't file your campaign filing reports, they don't know who is funding your campaign. If you don't file your personal financial statements, they don't know if you have any conflicts of interest."
Reynolds says it is not an issue with his supporters.
"I haven't had any constituents call me about the fines."
When asked if the fact that no one has called to complain makes it alright, Reynolds responded, “I'm telling you that it hasn't been an issue."
The twist in all this is that Reynold's fines relate to an area he actually helps regulate in Austin as a member of the House Committee on Elections.
Reynolds says he plans to have the debt paid off by Nov. 6.
That's fitting, since it will be Election Day.
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