Campaign bill barely moving in subcommitteeChairman, who got help from TRMPAC, says proposal is complicated
By CHRISTY HOPPE / Dallas Morning News
April 14, 2005
AUSTIN _ Two lawmakers who benefited from almost $100,000 spent by a political committee under a grand jury investigation are moving slowly on a popular campaign finance bill, and some Democratic leaders said they fear the proposal could be dying a slow death.
The bill would ban corporate money from political races in Texas and also ban ads that are paid for with anonymous corporate or union money 60 days before an election. The proposal has the support of 93 of the 150 House members, who have signed on as sponsors.
Top Democrats complained Wednesday that they are worried that Election Committee chairwoman Mary Denny, R-Aubrey, and Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, are stalling the bill in hopes of killing it.
"Time is getting of the essence," said bill co-author Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston. "If it doesn't start moving soon and fast, then what I call 'the invisible hand of government that leaves no fingerprints' may be able to kill it."
Ms. Denny said she referred the bill to a subcommittee because she and others had problems with a key component of the bill _ the pre-election ban on corporate or union advocacy.
"It's a freedom of speech issue, and I have a problem with that," Ms. Denny said.
She said she considered the bill's prospects to be "iffy."
"There's so much on our plate right now, so much that has to pass," Ms. Denny said.
She said she didn't know so many members had signed on to support the bill but would consider that.
Mr. Hughes, chairman of the subcommittee considering the bill, said he thought the 24-page measure was "long and complicated."
Most members of the Elections Committee, "want to make sure they understand what's in there," Mr. Hughes said.
The bill is aimed at curtailing activities in the 2002 election that triggered grand jury investigations and led to the indictments of three men and eight corporations affiliated with U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
The indictments connected to the Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee charge that almost $600,000 in corporate money was illegally raised and spent on key Republican races. Victories in 15 of those races led to the GOP takeover of the House for the first time in 130 years and paved the way for Tom Craddick to become speaker.
In the 2002 election cycle, Ms. Denny benefited from a pamphlet paid for by TRMPAC with corporate money. Mr. Hughes was the largest single recipient of TRMPAC contributions.
The $70,000 he received from TRMPAC did not come from corporate funds.
Ms. Denny and Mr. Hughes said their support from TRMPAC is not influencing their skepticism about the bill.
Mr. Craddick's connections to TRMPAC fundraising are also part of the ongoing grand jury investigation, and some members believe that sensitivity about protecting the speaker is preventing movement on the campaign law.
The speaker said earlier in the session that he would remain neutral on the bill. But three years ago, when Mr. Craddick first announced that he had sufficient House support to become speaker, he stated that under his watch, any bill that had widespread support would receive a fair debate in the House.
"Any member who can present a convincing argument for a bill and garner support for it among the members will be afforded the chance to move that legislation through the parliamentary process," Mr. Craddick said at the time.
Asked on Wednesday about that pledge and the campaign finance bill, Mr. Craddick said: "I'm staying out of that deal."
The election subcommittee is scheduled to meet today on the proposal.
PROPOSALS ON POLITICAL ADVERTISING
A bipartisan campaign finance bill that would tighten state laws on corporate funding of political races is co-sponsored by 63 House Democrats and 30 Republicans. The bill would:
Define a political ad as one that refers to a candidate, is distributed to his or her electorate, and is distributed 60 days before an election. It would stop groups with anonymous donors from claiming exemptions through "issue ads" and is expected to curtail so-called attack ads.
Limit corporations and unions to contributing only to their own affiliated political action committee and then only to cover administrative costs. It would stop corporations and unions from donating to unrelated committees, such as what occurred in 2002 with Texans for a Republican Majority.
Define administrative expenses as office space, phones, clerical salaries and office equipment.