Texas' corporate political cash ban may get some enforcingBy Carlos Guerra, San Antonio Express-News
Last week, as three federal judges tried to keep dozens of lawyers from arguing the legality of Texas' new GOP-enhancing congressional map into Easter, the U.S. Supreme Court lobbed a bombshell into the fray.
It upheld the ban on corporate political spending and summarily dismissed the notion that political ads must include "vote for" in the copy and those that don't are protected free speech that corporations can buy with impunity. For campaign finance reformers struggling to curb big money's role in politics, the ruling was loudly cheered.
Texas has banned corporate campaign cash since 1905. But during the 2002 election cycle, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his buddies launched a Republican takeover of the Texas House to increase the GOP's — and DeLay's — influence in Congress and keep it long into the future.
"It isn't that there hadn't been other misuses involving corporate money in the past," says Craig McDonald, head of Texans for Public Justice, a watchdog group. "But 2002 was the first time we saw an avalanche of corporate money come into legislative elections, and I suspect that it was coordinated."
Five GOP-related political action committees supported a startlingly similar list of legislative candidates, and two groups are now being probed by a Travis County grand jury delving into criminal violations of the state's corporate money ban.
The best known of these is the Texas Association of Business (TAB), which provided money and in-kind support to 23 GOP candidates. Since the Travis County probe opened in January, the association's attorney, Andy Taylor — who is also the state's defense attorney in the federal redistricting challenge — has mounted several unsuccessful attempts to block disclosure of TAB's corporate donors and other critical evidence.
And since March, another group has come under scrutiny on allegations it illegally siphoned corporate money to campaigns: the Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee (TRM). The group has multiple connections to DeLay, the kingpin behind the redistricting plan that is now facing a challenge in federal court over whether it diminishes minority influence in Congress. Coincidentally, I'm sure, it also funded the TAB candidates.
"It came to our attention that TRM also received approximately $600,000 from corporations, some of whom care about Texas but also from some corporations that only cared about access to Tom DeLay in Congress, like Bacardi & Co. (of Florida) and Westar (Energy of Kansas)," McDonald says.
Through a complex series of transfers, it appears that TAB and TRM funneled corporate money into these campaigns in violation of state laws. "And it was a substantial amount, more than $3 million that we know of that went to help the TAB 23," McDonald charges.
But Taylor's legal reversals, recent revelations and now the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling have given McDonald hope as the holiday season approaches that Texas' laws will be respected and enforced.
"My Christmas wish is that shortly after the end of the year," he says, "the grand jury will deliver some indictments against the responsible parties."
That's the best way to stop the violations.