NY Times: Whitmire Walks a Fine Line on Conflicts

In a story for the New York Times and Texas Tribune, writer Jay Root wrote about Mr. Whitmire’s ethical tightrope walk:

A clamor for ethics reform was sweeping the state and the nation in 1973 when John Whitmire, a 23-year-old college dropout, was sworn in as a freshman member of the Texas House.

Watergate was on its way to becoming a household word, and in Texas an influence-peddling controversy known as the Sharpstown scandal had thrust public corruption into the spotlight. In response, lawmakers for the first time agreed to disclose how they make their money.

Mr. Whitmire said he does not remember why he voted to weaken that disclosure proposal.

Mr. Whitmire, 63, has learned a thing or two in his four decades as a legislator. When he is not making laws, he is working in the government affairs section of a politically connected law firm — the section that employs registered lobbyists. Without ever leaving the Legislature, he has been a federal lobbyist.

“I know how to spell it now,” he said, deadpan.

He knows how to raise and spend campaign money, too.

As he begins his 21st regular legislative session, Mr. Whitmire boasts the Legislature’s biggest war chest — more than $6 million at last count, eclipsing what Gov. Rick Perry reported this week.

Like many of his peers, Mr. Whitmire at times has used some of the money to help finance an often-lavish lifestyle. He uses it to pay for part of a lease of an $80,000 BMW 650i, and since the 1990s has bought $290,000 in tickets to sports events, including the Houston rodeo. Car leases are allowable and the ticket purchases, for “constituent entertainment,” got the Texas Ethics Commission’s blessing.