Politicians faulted on donor lawReport says some not disclosing occupations of major contributors
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
AUSTIN – Texas legislators appear to be in poor compliance with a law they passed requiring public disclosure of the occupations of major campaign donors, a report released Tuesday shows.
Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, says it is difficult to believe that legislative candidates wouldn't be able to find out the occupations of major contributors.
Democrats and Republicans alike failed in some cases to report donor occupations or employers of those who gave $500 or more. Democrats had the worst overall record in making the information public, according to a review by the nonprofit Texans for Public Justice.
State House and Senate members adequately disclosed the employer and occupation of only 58 percent of their individual large cash donors, the report found.
The report examined the campaign finance records of all 181 state lawmakers elected as of November 2004. The Legislature passed the occupation disclosure law in 2003, and the law took effect in January 2004.
A related provision specifying that state candidates must make their "best efforts" to report the employment of major donors took effect in July 2005, according to the Texas Ethics Commission.
The Texans for Public Justice report examined each individual contribution of $500 or more that lawmakers received in 2004 and 2005.
Several legislators in both parties failed to adequately identify the occupation and employer of Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, who gave those lawmakers contributions totaling $10,000 to $50,000 each, according to the report.
Mr. Perry is the biggest individual donor in Texas politics and gives mostly to Republicans. He owns Perry Homes.
It is hard to believe that legislative candidates wouldn't be able to find out the occupations of such large contributors, said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice.
Other big-money donors whose occupations weren't revealed or were found to be vaguely described were Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton of Mineral Wells; San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt of Blanco; former Democratic Gov. Dolph Briscoe of Uvalde; and rock musician Don Henley of Woodland Hills.
According to the report, Republican lawmakers adequately disclosed 64 percent of the occupations for the individual donors who gave $500 or more each. Those contributions totaled $10.6 million.
Among the Democrats' $6.4 million in large contributions, only 48 percent were adequately disclosed, the report states.
The report looked only at public campaign finance records, including corrected or updated reports. It could not examine additional, nonpublic letters candidates may have sent to the ethics commission providing further information about donors' employers or occupations, Mr. McDonald said.
Violators of the law can face a civil fine of up to $5,000 or three times the amount of the donation involved, said Tim Sorrells, deputy general counsel for the ethics commission.
The commission's sworn complaint process is confidential unless a case results in an enforcement action. Mr. Sorrells said he couldn't comment generally on compliance with the relatively new donor occupation disclosure law.