Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My Apology For Thinking Bad Of Joe Driver

State Representative Joe Driver (R-Garland) caught hell a week or so ago when he was accused of double-dipping from the state -- seeking reimbursement for his expenses as a state legislator from both the state and his own campaign. Now, as other legislators' practices are examined, we learn that most state legislators are "guilty" of the same "offense." I put quotes around those words because it's not as black-and-white that anything unethical or illegal is going on as the original story would lead us to believe.

After the jump, the not so black-and-white details.

The state pays legislators a per diem for expenses incurred performing state business. Legislators are not required to itemize their expenses to receive the per diem. There are no state rules on the allowable use of per diem funds. Some legislators say that the $168 per diem does not cover the total cost of doing state business in Austin and they use campaign funds to cover the balance of their expenses. Legislators *are* required to itemize expenses for which they are reimbursed by their campaigns.

Because the state doesn't require itemization of expenses, it's impossible to say whether any legislators are, in fact, double-dipping, that is, getting reimbursed for the *same* expense from both the state and their campaign. It's possible some are and some aren't and others simply don't know, as they don't itemize every last expense they incur on state business -- remember, the state does not require itemization to receive the per diem.

This incident should lead the state legislature to review rules concerning expense reimbursements. It should lead each individual legislator to tighten up his own bookkeeping so he can defend himself against charges of inappropriate use of per diem funds. And it should lead the public to withhold judgment just a little while when news stories claim to reveal blatantly corrupt behavior by public officials. The facts are sometimes not as sexy as the headlines.

So, my apologies to Joe Driver for jumping to conclusions. (I don't think I blogged it, but I certainly thought he was just another corrupt politician who preaches fiscal restraint while taking undeserved money from the public till.) Garland voters, it's OK consider voting for him again.

If it turns out that Joe Driver was double-dipping over and above collecting a per diem like the rest of the legislators, then I reserve the right to take back my apology and go back to thinking Joe Driver is a scumbag.


Mark Steger said...

Rereading some of the stories about Joe Driver's 'double-dipping' makes me think that what he did was indeed double-dipping. According to this story, 'Driver has said that for years he has been submitting the same receipts -- for luxury hotels, airline tickets, meals and fees -- to his campaign and to the Texas House of Representatives.' That does not sound like it has anything to do with the per diem questions that are being raised about so many other legislators. Joe Driver, you're back on my sh*t list.

Mark Steger said...

This week's news pretty much settles the question. Headline: "Rep. Joe Driver of Garland expected to plead guilty to felony for double-billing travel expenses"