Campaign finance can't be reformed by more corporate cashSan Antonio Express-News
November 30, 2004
When Texas lawmakers banned corporations from giving money to candidates in 1903, they reasoned that since corporations can vastly outspend individuals, if left uncontrolled, we would end up with the best state government money could buy.
Later, when labor unions rose to prominence, the ban was extended to them as well because just as corporate bosses could spend shareholders' cash, labor leaders could use union dues to outgun individuals. Both corporations and unions were allowed to pay the administrative costs of raising political money from individuals, and generally, this ban served its purpose until 2002, when the Texas Association of Business spent $1.9 million in corporate cash for thinly veiled "issue" mail pieces sent to voters in targeted legislative districts, triggering a Travis County grand jury investigation that is still ongoing. That year, the Texans for a Republican Majority PAC also spent $600,000 of corporate money on political consultants, polls, phone banks and other campaign activities that its leaders said were "administrative," leading to the indictment of three individuals and several corporations.
Last week, the Austin American-Statesman sent ripples through Texas' campaign reform circles by reporting that Andy Taylor — seemingly the Texas Republicans' favorite lawyer — proposes changing the corporate money ban. In addition to calling for a clearer definition of what campaign activities can be paid with corporate cash, Taylor proposed allowing corporations to pay for ads that pass a "magic-words test" by avoiding words and phrases like "vote for," "vote against," "support" or "elect."
And he said he will lobby for changes to allow corporations to give directly to candidates, but to cap the size of these contributions. Fred Lewis, who heads Campaigns for People, a campaign reform group that favors strict limits on big bucks to campaigns from both corporations and individuals, said his group has advocated "expressly defining" what administrative expenses are. "But corporations and unions should only be allowed to pay the administrative expenses of their own political action committees," he said. "Andy Taylor's so-called reforms are a Trojan horse that will result in unlimited amounts of undisclosed corporate money being spent on elections.
"If we adopt a 'magic-words' test, any corporation will be able to spend unlimited amounts and simply not say 'vote for,' 'vote against' or use other equivalent language," Lewis said, and pointed out that today, many candidates don't even use these words in their own ads. As for allowing capped amounts of direct corporate contributions, it would open the floodgates to corporate cash, Lewis said, because corporations will evade the caps by giving the maximum to a candidate and like amounts to PACs, state and county party organizations that will use the money to help the same candidate.
The reforms truly needed, Lewis said, are an absolute ban on corporate-funded "sham issue ads that identify a candidate and target an electorate within 60 days of an election." And above all, he said, "We need to set reasonable contributions limits, including an aggregate contribution limit, and we need to get an ethics commission that enforces the law." He's right. What we need is to curb all big bucks contributions from all sources and return state government to the people.