New bill would curb corporate moneyGOP leaders say laws already are tight enough
By R.G. RATCLIFFE, Houston Chronicle
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
AUSTIN - A bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, introduced a bill Monday to tighten the state's restrictions on corporate and union money in Texas politics. But the bill has no support with the Legislature's Republican leadership.
The legislation would ban corporate contributions to political committees not directly affiliated with the corporation. It also would ban corporate money from being used in advertising designed to influence a primary or general election.
"In Texas, we made the decision we're going to have naming rights for corporations to our baseball stadiums, our basketball arenas, our football fields," Eiland said. "But we don't need to authorize corporate naming rights to politicians and elected officials."
The bill is sponsored in the House by Eiland and Rep. Todd Smith, R-Bedford. In the Senate, it is sponsored by Sens. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock.
More than 60 public-interest groups announced support for the bill. Among them are the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention, the AARP and Common Cause.
The legislation grows out of a 2002 election controversy in which corporate money was used to help finance the Republican takeover of the Texas House. Three political consultants have been indicted in the case, and the investigation by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle continues.
Secret corporate donations also were used by Americans for Job Security in a special state Senate election last year to destroy the candidacy of state Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview. The ads were run by political consultant David Carney, an adviser to Gov. Rick Perry.
Smith said the ads used against Merritt are a "horrendous example" of how third-party corporate advertising can take campaigns away from the politicians.
"The bill keeps corporate and union money from being used to finance attack ads," Smith said. "The public is disgusted and turned off by these attack ads when they learn they are paid for by undisclosed and unlimited union and corporate money."
Neither House Speaker Tom Craddick nor Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, voiced support for the bill. Craddick is under a criminal investigation for his role in the 2002 election controversy.
"I'm not going to do either (support or oppose). That's up to the committee and the House," Craddick said. "We've got some problems in interpretation of the law."
Texas for more than 100 years has banned corporate or union money from being used to influence an election, but such money can be used to pay for a political committee's administrative expenses. During the 2002 elections, Texans for a Republican Majority defined anything other than a direct contribution to a candidate as an administrative expense.
Dewhurst indicated the current law provides enough protections.
"One of the things I've always felt very strongly about is open disclosure, open and timely disclosure. And I think we've made great strides in moving to that point," Dewhurst said.
Eiland said the bill is designed to make sure people influence elections in Texas.
"What I'm trying to do here is make sure individuals have a fighting chance and don't have to fight corporations from all over the country," Eiland said.
Eiland said the bill makes no effort to limit individual contributions in Texas. He said restrictions will not completely prevent corporations from paying for ads to influence an election, just ban them within 60 days of a general election and 30 days of a primary.