Clarity awaits: Legislature should end doubt and ban corporate and union contributions to political action committees.Editorial, Houston Chronicle
Oct. 28, 2004
Texas law has long banned the use of cash from corporations and unions from the political process, with one exception: Political action committees can use money from these sources to pay basic office expenses such as rent and utilities. Because of that exception, several political action committees and their associates have come to grief. In everyone's best interest, the Legislature should eliminate the exception or clarify it beyond dispute.
After some PAC officials in Texas bragged of their decisive use of corporate money to influence the last election of Texas legislators, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle began an investigation. So far, three people associated with the political action committee Texans for a Republican Majority have been indicted. This week the Texas Supreme Court set aside and then reconsidered a temporary restraining order keeping Associated Republicans of Texas from spending its corporate cash until after the election. The court said it was taking no position on the legality of the corporate subsidy, reinforcing the impression that its legality cannot be taken for granted.
All this investigation and litigation could be avoided in the future if the next Legislature would just grant corporate cash and political action committees a legal divorce. The law clearly intends to keep them asunder, but some PAC officials dispute the obvious.
Raising and spending hundreds of thousands of corporate dollars per year offends both the letter and spirit of the law. If the Legislature deems some corporate subsidy essential to PACs' existence, it should spell out its extent: rent on office space not to exceed so many square feet; telephone bills not to exceed a specific amount, etc. Should the Legislature follow this course, PAC officials and prosecutors will know where they stand.