Houston Asbestos Attorney Tests Judicial Campaign Limits
|For Immediate Release:|
For More Information Contact:
|March 8, 2004|
Craig McDonald, 512-472-9770
Austin, TX: The top donor to Supreme Court Justice Steven Smith appears to have violated the spirit—if not the letter—of Texas’ judicial-campaign law on the eve of tomorrow’s primary.
TPJ’s Dollar Docket reported Friday that Justice Smith took $25,000 from his top donor, the new Texans for Family Values (TFV) PAC. Dollar Docket reported that TFV appeared to be controlled by Houston attorney W. Mark Lanier, who also contributed $5,000 directly to Smith’s campaign. Disclosure reports that the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) made public today confirm that Lanier controls TFV—and personally accounts for almost all of the $38,610 that his PAC has raised. Directly and through the PAC that he bankrolls and controls, this colorful plaintiff’s attorney contributed $30,000 to the Smith campaign—accounting for 32 percent of the $95,080 that Smith reported a week before tomorrow’s primary.
Under Texas’ Judicial Campaign Fairness Act, individual donors are legally prohibited from giving more than $6,250 to Justice Smith or his primary opponent, San Antonio Appeals Court Judge Paul Green. Directly and through his closely held PAC Lanier gave the Smith campaign almost five times this limit. Neither the Texas Ethics Commission nor Texas courts appear to have interpreted if or how these limits apply to individual contributions that are routed through an intermediary PAC. “This is a real test of Texas’ judicial-contribution limits,” said Texans for Public Justice’s Bill Medaille. “Justice Smith’s top donor both controls TFV and accounts for almost all of the money that it raised. If such shell games do not violate Texas’ judicial-contribution limits, than those limits are meaningless.” Texas law requires judicial candidates to return excess contributions and subjects excessive donors to civil penalties of up to three times the amount of their excess.
Lanier, who has won multi-million verdicts for asbestos plaintiffs, is known for throwing big holiday parties headlined by such acts as Bill Cosby, Al Green, Barry Manilow, Diana Ross, the Dixie Chicks and Crosby Stills and Nash. As an abortion foe, Lanier had a different approach than most plaintiff attorneys to the $250,000 limits that Texas imposed on medical malpractice cases last year. Lanier paid a lobbyist to try to exempt physicians performing abortions from these protective liability limits.