Contributing Factors

Debra Danburg swears she'll defend your right to open government. But when it comes to Internet campaign finance reports, ignorance is bliss.

House Speaker Pete Laney is among 31 of the 181 legislators who submitted their most-recent reports electronically. Madden also is among them. Danburg and Wolens aren't.

Danburg uses the ethics commission's antiquated software as another excuse for her position against mandatory electronic filing. She says she once paid a computer consultant $15,000 to try to make her campaign software compatible with what the ethics commission provides -- a claim that befuddles commission staff.

"What you have are computer experts who are the only people who can do this," Danburg says. "How much do they charge an hour? A bunch."

When informed that the commission is aching to upgrade its software to a user-friendly Windows-based system, she asks, "Why haven't they already done it?"

Easy enough to answer: She and her legislative colleagues haven't appropriated the money to do it.

Lawmakers have been generous with the buck, however, in turning the Legislature itself into a high-tech institution. All 181 legislators have Dell or IBM laptop computers, paid for by the state, on the tops of their antique wood desks inside the Senate and House chambers. Legislators are also provided at least one desktop computer each, to use in their Capitol offices.

Although some legislators are quick to assert their computer ignorance when it comes to filing campaign-finance reports, many routinely visit Internet spots from their desks, including an award-winning Web site called Texas Legislature Online (www.capitol.state.tx.us). The site, financed by taxpayers, is a mother lode of information. One of its many features is a database containing the full text of every bill filed in the Legislature since 1995. It also offers live and archived broadcasts (some with video) of many floor sessions and committee hearings.

All of it gives the impression that the Legislature is very hard at work and working very hard.

In addition, each legislator has his own home page, some with links to self-serving news releases. Other home pages have audio greetings.

"I hope you'll find this information interesting and helpful," Wolens says on his.

Apparently, that sentiment applies only when the information makes legislators look good.

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