New disclosures show Texas Sen. Royce West making big bucks from government contracts

For years, state Sen. Royce West has raked in millions in legal fees representing governmental entities such as the Dallas and Houston independent school districts, metropolitan transportation agencies and major Texas cities, sparking criticism that he is using his influence as a state lawmaker to score business deals average citizens can’t get.

"New disclosures show Texas Sen. Royce West making big bucks from government contracts" was first published by The Texas Tribune.

Until now, it was nearly impossible for voters to quantify the number of governmental contracting deals or estimate how much he’s personally making from his private business interests.

But because he’s running for the U.S. Senate, a federal office that requires far more robust disclosure than the state of Texas, the Dallas Democrat is finally pulling back the curtain on his considerable wealth. A recently implemented tweak to state ethics rules also requires him to provide more detail than ever about his government contracts.

In a U.S. Senate campaign disclosure filed last month, which includes all of 2018 and this year through mid-August, West reported that he made over $1 million in earned income, and that he’ll be eligible to draw a state pension exceeding $80,000 a year — or more, depending on when he retires.

West also reported drawing down more than $40,000 from the state in wages — well beyond the $7,200 yearly base salary he makes as a part-time state legislator — which likely would take into account per diem allowances paid during the 2019 legislative session, assuming West adhered to the reporting period spelled out in Senate Ethics Committee online guidance.

All told, the value of the assets he and his wife own — which include an investment in a tax consulting firm that business records show is jointly managed by West and Republican megadonor G. Brint Ryan’s company — are worth between $8.7 million and $28 million, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of the report. The Wests earned between $300,000 and $2.3 million from those assets for the reporting period, the analysis shows.

Emails and messages left for West's state Senate and campaign offices went unanswered, and West declined comment.

Voters were never able to get those kinds of basic details from the disclosures the longtime senator — or any other Texas lawmaker — has had to file under lax state ethics laws. But the state disclosure West filed this year does contain fresh details about his government work, thanks to a reform championed in 2017 by state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake. It took 18 months for the bill to take effect, but now Texas lawmakers and major appointed officials must reveal high-value contracts they have with governmental entities.

West lists contracts between his law firm and seven public entities: the public school districts of Houston, Dallas and Crowley; the cities of Houston and Fort Worth; Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority; and the Sunbelt Freshwater Supply District in Houston.

He also reports serving, via his law firm, as bond counsel for multiple governmental entities, including Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Dallas County Community College, the North Texas Tollway Authority and several school districts and cities.

When interviewed about his government contracts in the past, West has dismissed concerns about any conflicts of interest, saying he makes it clear to entities that hire him that they are talking to him in his capacity as a private lawyer, not as a state lawmaker.

"I tell people all the time, 'When you come into this office, you're seeing me as an attorney,'" West told the Dallas Observer in 2007. The writer took note of a “State Senator Royce West” nameplate in that same office, in full view of potential customers.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said West’s dealings with public entities are rife with conflict because as a state senator he can “directly or indirectly influence the amount of money or policies that affect these organizations.”

The governmental entities might then feel pressured to hire or keep him because his influence can cut both ways, Jones added.

“On the one hand, they can effectively, by paying him money, they can get benefits. On the other side, by cutting their contracts with him, they could set themselves up to lose benefits,” Jones said. “What I think is clear here is the taxpayer probably loses because decisions are perhaps not being made on what’s best policy but what’s best for the legislator’s personal income.”

The business deal between West and Ryan’s company might come as a surprise to Democratic primary voters in the increasingly crowded contest to take on GOP Sen. John Cornyn.

"New disclosures show Texas Sen. Royce West making big bucks from government contracts" was first published by The Texas Tribune.

Until now, it was nearly impossible for voters to quantify the number of governmental contracting deals or estimate how much he’s personally making from his private business interests.

But because he’s running for the U.S. Senate, a federal office that requires far more robust disclosure than the state of Texas, the Dallas Democrat is finally pulling back the curtain on his considerable wealth. A recently implemented tweak to state ethics rules also requires him to provide more detail than ever about his government contracts.

In a U.S. Senate campaign disclosure filed last month, which includes all of 2018 and this year through mid-August, West reported that he made over $1 million in earned income, and that he’ll be eligible to draw a state pension exceeding $80,000 a year — or more, depending on when he retires.

West also reported drawing down more than $40,000 from the state in wages — well beyond the $7,200 yearly base salary he makes as a part-time state legislator — which likely would take into account per diem allowances paid during the 2019 legislative session, assuming West adhered to the reporting period spelled out in Senate Ethics Committee online guidance.

All told, the value of the assets he and his wife own — which include an investment in a tax consulting firm that business records show is jointly managed by West and Republican megadonor G. Brint Ryan’s company — are worth between $8.7 million and $28 million, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of the report. The Wests earned between $300,000 and $2.3 million from those assets for the reporting period, the analysis shows.

Emails and messages left for West's state Senate and campaign offices went unanswered, and West declined comment.

Voters were never able to get those kinds of basic details from the disclosures the longtime senator — or any other Texas lawmaker — has had to file under lax state ethics laws. But the state disclosure West filed this year does contain fresh details about his government work, thanks to a reform championed in 2017 by state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake. It took 18 months for the bill to take effect, but now Texas lawmakers and major appointed officials must reveal high-value contracts they have with governmental entities.

West lists contracts between his law firm and seven public entities: the public school districts of Houston, Dallas and Crowley; the cities of Houston and Fort Worth; Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority; and the Sunbelt Freshwater Supply District in Houston.

He also reports serving, via his law firm, as bond counsel for multiple governmental entities, including Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Dallas County Community College, the North Texas Tollway Authority and several school districts and cities.

When interviewed about his government contracts in the past, West has dismissed concerns about any conflicts of interest, saying he makes it clear to entities that hire him that they are talking to him in his capacity as a private lawyer, not as a state lawmaker.

"I tell people all the time, 'When you come into this office, you're seeing me as an attorney,'" West told the Dallas Observer in 2007. The writer took note of a “State Senator Royce West” nameplate in that same office, in full view of potential customers.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said West’s dealings with public entities are rife with conflict because as a state senator he can “directly or indirectly influence the amount of money or policies that affect these organizations.”

The governmental entities might then feel pressured to hire or keep him because his influence can cut both ways, Jones added.

“On the one hand, they can effectively, by paying him money, they can get benefits. On the other side, by cutting their contracts with him, they could set themselves up to lose benefits,” Jones said. “What I think is clear here is the taxpayer probably loses because decisions are perhaps not being made on what’s best policy but what’s best for the legislator’s personal income.”

The business deal between West and Ryan’s company might come as a surprise to Democratic primary voters in the increasingly crowded contest to take on GOP Sen. John Cornyn.