The message of the First Amendment to our Constitution is clear: The people of this country have a basic right to know what their elected officials are doing, and how their tax dollars are being spent.

Unfortunately, legislation and court decisions over the years have enabled government officials to violate those principles.

Among the thousands of proposed new laws that the 86th Texas Legislature will consider this year will be bills for and against open government and the public’s right to know what they’re paying for.

One of the most critical, and highest-profile, bills in this session is House Bill 81 filed by state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, that would require government bodies to release information regarding how much they spent on parades, festivals and other entertainment events.

Canales filed the same bill in 2017 but it was killed in a procedural move.

This and other efforts to maintain open government inspired the Texas Press Association to give Canales its Transparency Champion award last year.

HB 81 would expand the Texas Public Information Act to include information related to the receipt or expenditure of public funds for a parade, concert or other entertainment event, and it prohibits a government entity, or anyone acting on its behalf, from including a provision in a contract that would prevent public disclosure of the expenditure.

The proposed legislation stems from an attorney general’s ruling that upheld a nondisclosure clause in the contract the city of McAllen signed to have singer Enrique Iglesias perform at the city’s 2015 holiday festival.

The ruling was based on a Texas Supreme Court decision on a contract between Boeing aerospace company and the San Antonio Port Authority that even information that was not copyrighted or a trade secret could be kept confidential if its disclosure might benefit a competitor.

McAllen reported that it suffered a loss on the holiday festival, but refused to disclose the amount.

Before the ruling, state law allowed only proprietary information and trade secrets to be protected from public disclosure.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, who opposed the original Boeing ruling, later applied it to the McAllen case, expanding it from manufacturing contracts to include entertainment agreements where no actual trade secrets were involved.

The application of such a provision to entertainers is dubious, since there is no set market for their services. The cost of hiring Enrique Iglesias won’t be the same as another performer, and taxpayers have a right to decide whether or not the expense is justified.

The only risk of such contracts is possible embarrassment if another entity makes a better deal with the same entertainer, but even that is subject to change; a Grammy award might suddenly raise a singer’s asking price or the loss of public favor following a scandal could drop it.

We applaud Canales for his dedication to open government, and his perseverance in keeping the Iglesias issue alive. We hope more of his colleagues this year agree that information in government contracts with entertainers and similar contractors should be available to the public.

Editor’s note: This editorial was written by editors at The Brownsville Herald and first appeared in that newspaper. It was distributed by the Texas Press Association and is being republished by association members such as The Daily News.

(3) comments

Carlos Ponce

"McAllen reported that it suffered a loss on the holiday festival, but refused to disclose the amount."
"They do know the city lost $583,000 on the concert." - Texas Tribune
Enrique Iglesias had a non-disclosure contract with the City of McAllen. Revealing the amount would have meant Enrique Iglesias suing the city for breach of contract. And he would win that lawsuit. A loss of more money.
"taxpayers have a right to decide whether or not the expense is justified" City commissioners knew the amount. If the citizens don't like that then they can choose not to re-elect them.
How much does an Enrique Iglesias cost?
"In 2016 it looked like the singer’s spectacular career was winding down. Suddenly, he was back on top. People With Money reports on Friday (January 18) that Iglesias is the highest-paid singer in the world, pulling in an astonishing $58 million between December 2017 and December 2018, a nearly $30 million lead over his closest competition."
"Remember, these amounts are not what a band gets for playing a show amidst a tour, but rather what they might ask for to fly into some random city for a one-off performance. Enrique Iglesias = $750,000+
"Enrique Iglesias was paid $90,000 for his performance at Panama City’s Convention Center in August 2014, according to a contract obtained by the Panamanian tax agency. He was paid an additional $50,000 for plane tickets and other expenses. " = $140,000 in 2014
The more popular the singer, the higher the price one pays for a live concert. I would not pay that much but I'm not an Enrique Iglesias fan. Cheaper to turn on a radio.

Ray Taft

Open government is good. The public has a right to know how their money is being spent at every level of government.

HB 81 should include all Texas public schools. We need to know how our schools are spending all that tax money!

George Croix

There's a LOT of money being spent that should not have to be spent.....

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