A chance to pull reins on campaign spendingBY Editorial Board, Austin American-Statesman
February 23, 2005
The Texas Legislature should reinforce an almost century-old ban on corporations and unions contributing to political campaigns. It can do so by approving bipartisan legislation introduced by Reps. Todd Smith, R-Euless, and Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, in the House and by Sens. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, and Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, in the Senate.
Corporate board members and officers, as well as union officials, are legally free to give as much of their own money to Texas political campaigns as they want. They can even form political action committees to maximize the impact of their contributions. But they can't use corporate or union money to give to their chosen candidates, and they shouldn't be allowed to circumvent the law's clear intent.
The law needs reinforcing because political and business interests want to tap the capacious pockets of corporations to finance election campaigns, both for certain candidates and against others. For more than the past two years, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has conducted an investigation into a 2002 state campaign by Texans for a Republican Majority, a political action committee that helped elect the first Republican majority in the Texas House in more than a century. The committee had $600,000 in corporate donations. Also of concern is the involvement of Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, who won election as House speaker.
The proposed legislation would eliminate the "magic words" argument being used by defendants in the investigation. That defense holds that corporate money used to finance an advertising campaign criticizing certain candidates did not break state law because the ads did not use certain words such as "elect and defeat." It is a fallacious argument because the message of the fliers produced for that election clearly intended to guide the reader toward some candidates and away from others.
Another defense has been that corporate donations spent on consultants, polls and fund-raisers did not violate state law because it has an exception for administrative expenses. The proposed legislation makes clear that administrative expenses are such things as office rent and phones ‹ not political consulting, phone banks or campaign fund-raising, each of which can substantially benefit a campaign.
Craddick said Monday that he will be neutral on the bill. Texans ought to hold him to his word because a speaker can remain neutral publicly while helping ‹ or killing ‹ a bill in back halls. This is good legislation and should become law.