Will 21st Century TX Still Lack Clean Elections and Clean Courts?by Craig McDonald
Barring unexpected action by the 1999 legislature, Texas will enter the 21st Century with:
- Special interests still purchasing elections;
- Judges still taking campaign funds from parties in their courtrooms; and
- Citizens still unable to track this torrential flow of money because the legislature won't computerize campaign finance information.
interest groups, lobbyists and wealthy individuals acquire excessive political influence through huge political expenditures that would be illegal under the laws of 45 states as well as under the federal election system.
Research by Texans for Public Justice over the past two years documents the urgent need for campaign finance reforms in Texas. This research reveals that:
The lobby decides.
House members in the 1997 legislature took 62 percent of all the money they raised directly from PACs and businesses. Candidates lacking this lobby's support rarely stand a chance.
Home districts get overshadowed.
Last year's House members raised a staggering 80 percent of their money outside of the districts that they are supposed to represent. The business districts of Austin, Houston and the Metroplex supplied almost half of all money that House members raised.
Forget average Texans.
The Texas political system runs on big money. Campaign contributions of less than $100 accounted for just 5 percent of the money that House members raised. In contrast, big contributions of $1,000 or more accounted for almost 40 percent of the money raised.
The judiciary is tainted, too.
Even Texas judges rise to the bench through costly, partisan elections, which they fund with money that they take from the very parties whom they judge in their courtrooms. Sixty percent of the decisions issued by the Texas Supreme Court between 1992 and 1996 were tainted by the fact that one or more of the sitting justices took money from a party or lawyer involved in the case.
Given these troubling facts, it is no wonder that Texas lawmakers--who have even put our welfare recipients on a sophisticated computerized Lone Star Card benefits program--continually refuse to establish a simple computer system to provide citizens across Texas with full and timely disclosures of campaign financing information.
Here are three basic reforms that the incoming legislature needs to pass to usher Texas into a truly democratic 21st Century:
Limit big contributions.
Put reasonable limits--such as $1,000--on campaign contributions to candidates and PACs and limit the total annual amount that an individual can give to all Texas PACs and campaigns.
End judicial elections.
Take the money out of judicial selection by presenting voters with a plan for gubernatorial appointment of judges subject to Senate confirmation.
Computerize campaign disclosures.
Require campaign contribution and expenditure reports to be filed by computer and post them on the Internet to give voters all across Texas quick and easy access to this information.
Without these reforms, our state government in the 21st Century will continue to over represent big business political contributors--including polluters, insurance companies and banks--and other special interests at the expense of regular Texans, who get squeezed out by pocketbook politics.