Is a pay-to-play scheme underway in Harris County? A shocking new Houston Chronicle investigation makes it appear so.

According to the paper’s latest exposé, Harris County commissioners are raking in campaign cash from “executives at companies awarded no-bid contracts by those commissioners.” The article even puts forward some eye-opening data to support its proposition.

“From 2020 through 2021, commissioners relied on county vendors — through political action committees, employees and their family members — for 79% of their campaign contributions while steering 93% of engineering, architecture, surveying and appraisal work to firms who contributed.”

According to one watchdog, the problem here is obvious.

“‘If that’s not a pay-to-play system, what is? Then the term has no meaning at all,’ said Andrew Wheat, research director for corruption watchdog Texans for Public Justice. ‘The idea that it’s pure chance that the ones giving the money are the ones getting the contracts, it’s too much for the average person to swallow.’”

If the substance of these claims proves accurate, then the public deserve swift action. There is no place in Texas government for pay-to-play schemes.

However, before this conclusion can be reached, the public should be provided with a full and formal investigation of the Harris County Commissioners’ Court’s procurement processes and the award of public contracts. We need maximum transparency to have complete confidence. If improprieties—or even the appearance of improprieties—exist, then the public deserves to know about it and be assured that accountability will follow.