Texas Politicians Block Public's Access to Campaign Fundraising Reportsby Craig McDonald
While the public and private sectors scramble to exterminate the Y2K computer bug, a handful of politicians in Austin are struggling to ensure your computer can't track who pays for their election campaigns.
Currently, Texans who wish to see the fundraising reports of their elected officials have three unappealing options:
- travel to Austin to view the paper reports in person;
- request the reports by mail at 10 cents a page; or
- request the reports by fax at $2 a page.
Most of our politicians seem to like this archaic system. What do they have to hide? Painstaking analysis of campaign contribution reports has revealed the following disturbing trends:
The lobby decides.
During the 1996 elections, members of the Texas House of Representatives took 62 percent of the money they raised directly from businesses and special interest political action committees (PACs). Candidates lacking the lobby's support rarely stand a chance. Many of the most powerful lobbyists are former elected officials who collect state pensions while they twist arms for big-spending special interests.
Home districts are overshadowed.
In the last session, House members raised a staggering 80 percent of their money outside of the districts they were elected to represent. The business districts of Austin, Houston and the Metroplex supplied almost half of all money raised by House members.
Forget average Texans.
The Texas political system runs on big money. Contributions of $1,000 or more accounted for almost 40 percent of the money raised. Contributions of less than $100 accounted for just 5 percent of the money raised.
Our elected officials have allowed a handful of powerful insiders to take control of our state government by exploiting indulgent election laws that have made Texas the Wild West of special interest politics. Many Texas politicians rely on single contributions of $10,000 or even
$100,000, contributions so large that they would be illegal in 45 other states.
No wonder Texas lawmakers--who boast an award-winning web site with live video--refuse to establish a simple computer system to give citizens quick and affordable access to campaign fundraising reports.
Unlike the Y2K bug, fixing this public disclosure glitch is easy and inexpensive. The Legislature need only pass a bill directing the Texas Ethics Commission to post fundraising disclosure reports on their present web site. Candidates would be required to submit their contribution
and spending data electronically, either on computer disk or directly to the Ethics Commission through entry forms on its web site. Exemptions for candidates who run shoestring campaigns could be established. Anyone with Internet access could instantaneously see who's bankrolling candidates for legislative and statewide offices.
Texas' campaign finance and lobby laws are screaming for fundamental reform. Regretfully, the Legislature is unlikely to put a lid on campaign contributions or slam the revolving lobby door shut. But, as we enter the 21st century, every Texan should be able to follow the political
money trail with a click of a mouse.