Fair Elections: Texans have keen interest in campaign probesFriday, February 20, 2004
Something smells bad. And Texans deserve to find out whether there's anything foul in the stench rising up around Texas campaigns.
Fortunately, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle is investigating. He's examining whether the Texas Association of Business broke the law and used corporate contributions in 2002 legislative races. Mr. Earle also is studying whether GOP Rep. Tom DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority used corporate dollars to win legislative races in that election.
Texas law keeps corporations from donating to candidates for a good reason: Texans don't need companies buying legislators. We need to keep it that way, which is why Mr. Earle is right to examine these situations.
We know the Texas Association of Business waded knee-deep into the 2002 elections. It ran advertisements in 21 Texas House races. The association told backers the ads helped the Republicans win elections.
We also know the organization received $1.9 million in corporate money. The question is: Did any of the money go to the campaigns?
The association swears it didn't. The group claims it only bought "issue ads." You know those ads. They're the ones that usually urge you to call Senator Sam if you think he's a bum for voting against a widget bill or great for voting for it.
The allegations against Mr. DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority are equally troubling. This newspaper reported yesterday that internal memos say the political action committee sent corporate money to the Republican National Committee, which then sent the same amount to Texas House candidates. Likewise, government records and other documents show the group spent corporate money on recruiting candidates, running polls and hiring consultants. That's a problem because corporate money can go for only administrative expenses, which polls, recruitment and consultants don't strike us as being.
We voters have a huge stake in keeping our campaigns free of corporate interference. We don't need corporations ? or unions, for that matter ? controlling a legislator. We also will benefit from next year's Legislature closing loopholes that let corporate money finance "administration expenses" that masquerade as baldfaced politicking.
This isn't about preferring Republicans to Democrats or vice versa. It's about our political system and the rules that govern it. These are our legislators. They don't belong to anyone else. Texans in both parties deserve to know whether someone is trying to change that.