House bill aimed at 'mega-donors'John MacCormack, Express-News Staff Writer
March 25, 2005
A proposal to place a $100,000 limit on a person's political contributions to all state candidates in each two-year election cycle is aimed at curbing the unhealthy influence of a few wealthy "mega-donors," according to its sponsors.
"In the past 10 years, fewer than 400 donors have accounted for more than 50 percent of the money given in the political process," said Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, who, along with Mark Strama, D-Austin, is pushing House Bill 1104.
"I'm getting a lot of money from some of these big donors, but I still want to change it," said Villarreal, who provided a list of large contributors headed by Houston home builder Bob Perry.
Perry reported giving more than $3.8 million in the 2002 election cycle.
Perry could not be reached for comment.
In second place was James Leininger, owner of the medical technology firm Kinetic Concepts in San Antonio, who reported more than $1.3 million in donations.
According to a study conducted by Texans for Public Justice, the top 50 individual donors in Texas gave $14.3 million in 2002, or nearly 20 percent of all money contributed by individuals.
Texas is one of 10 states that do not limit how much a person can give.
Federal law limits individual contributions to all federal candidates and parties to $95,000.
Fred Lewis, president of the Austin-based "Campaigns for People," a non-partisan campaign reform group, said HB 1104 has wide support among nonpoliticians, but faces a difficult route to passage.
"It's gonna be tough, but it's the right thing to do, and we're going to have to begin the education process. The Democrats are as dependent on very large donors as the Republicans, so neither party is particularly supportive," he said.
"If you can raise money from a handful of people, who wants to raise money from average folks?" Lewis said.
Another Austin political observer, who asked not to be named, said the bill's chances of passing this session are slim.
"I don't think it's going anywhere. Why would you cut off your own food supply?" he asked of state legislators.
Villarreal said the bill, which would criminalize violations of the donation limit, will go before the House election committee in a couple of weeks. But even if it dies there, both sponsors said, they are in it for the long haul.
"It's a simple incremental measure. If we get a few breaks, we may be able to pass it this session," Strama said. "But realistically, this could be the first step in a journey that we expect could take two or three or four sessions."