Getting to the truth behind business group's donationsEDITORIAL BOARD, Austin American-Statesman
Monday, October 18, 2004
Evidence continues to mount that the Texas Association of Business attack-ad campaign in 2002 was anything but what its leaders say it was an uncoordinated project to educate voters about issues.
A Sunday article by the American-Statesman's Laylan Copelin is further indication that the smear campaign, funded by $1.9 million in secret corporate donations, was coordinated with candidates. It is illegal in Texas for corporations to support candidates, which is why TAB is under investigation in the 2002 election.
It strains credulity to believe that the characters involved in this political play weren't trying to help candidates when they cooked up their scheme. And whether they violated state law or not, they broke faith with the spirit of the law intended to keep corporations from buying elections.
This is a complicated story, involving secret corporate donations, the state's largest business lobby and U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee. But at its core, it was a concerted effort to make sure Republicans became a solid majority in the Legislature, and would then create new GOP congressional districts to enhance DeLay's power in Washington.
It worked. As the TAB's Web site crowed after the 2002 election, their effort "blew the doors off the November 5 general election using an unprecedented show of muscle that featured political contributions and a massive voter education drive."
But that drive strained the bonds of legality, if not breaking them. The four million pieces of campaign literature paid for by TAB included the names and pictures of the political opponents being attacked. And as the Sunday article highlighted, those ads were integrated with individual campaigns.
Although the legality of the TAB ads and DeLay's PAC money will be determined in the courts, these incidents point to serious problems with the state's campaign finance and ethics laws. But this story also includes solutions.
TAB's pricey attorneys can argue all they want to that the ad campaign was for voter education. But including names, pictures and records of individual opponents is powerful testimony to the contrary. Texas law should spell out that political ads containing a candidate's name and picture cannot be considered a voter education effort.
Although the law now prohibits corporations from donating to candidates, the TAB campaign shows that a willing advocate can stretch the issue ads loophole to the point of absurdity. That could be avoided by requiring corporations to disclose any and all contributions.
There is much for the 2005 Legislature to weigh as it considers needed reform in Texas' campaign finance and ethics laws.