Zaffirini corrects campaign errorsBy TRICIA CORTEZ, LAREDO MORNING TIMES
State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said Thursday she has hired extra staff to amend campaign reports she filed the last two years that do not comply with laws that took effect in January 2004. The campaign reform law requires Texas state candidates to disclose the employer and occupation of every individual donor who gives $500 or more on campaign reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.
Zaffirini failed to disclose this information for 136 large donors who gave her contributions totaling $226,400, according to a June report issued by Texans for Public Justice, a nonpartisan research organization that tracks the influence of money in Texas politics.
“What set Zaffirini apart from her peers is she raised the largest amount of money from large donors while at the same time leaving every occupation and employer field blank for every large donor,” Andrew Wheat, TPJ research director, said Thursday.
Out of 181 lawmakers, three state senators (out of 31) and 28 representatives (out of 150) left the occupation and employer fields blank on their campaign reports every time they reported a large donation, according to TPJ’s “Ain’t Nobody’s Business: Lawmakers Flunk Big-Donor Disclosure.”
“Lawmakers routinely leave these blanks on every large donor in apparent violation or ignorance of the law,” Wheat said.
Zaffirini, meanwhile, said her staff is correcting the omissions. She said it was the first she had heard of the filing errors.
All of her campaign reports submitted to the Texas Ethics Commission have come back “error-free,” she said Thursday.
“No one called this to our attention,” she said.
Zaffirini then asked why the commission failed to alert her office about new campaign forms that no longer list a donor’s employer or occupation as “optional.”
Wheat said the ethics commission has sent lawmakers several reminders about the new law, and he offered two memos dated Dec. 15, 2003, and Jan. 16, 2004, as examples.
Zaffirini said her office has no record of such memos.
“How many times have people sent you an invitation and you didn’t receive it?” she asked. “We have no record (of these memos) in our file.”
In a June 30 letter she wrote to the commission, Zaffirini said she strives to be “meticulous” with all reporting standards and said she did not knowingly violate any of them.
“For years, we have subscribed to Aristotle, an expensive software program, and I have spent thousands on training the clerical personnel who compile my reports,” Zaffirini wrote in the letter.
“The forms they used and that were approved by (the ethics commission) all indicate that including occupational information is optional,” she wrote. “Because we used those forms, we thought we were complying fully with reporting requirements.”
“Under no circumstances would we ever, ever ignore any requirements, however minor,” Zaffirini said Thursday.
Wheat said some lawmakers “have tried to blame the ethics commission, which, of course, is not much of an enforcement agency. They only enforce ethics violations in response to formal complaints.”
Zaffirini has since hired someone to review all 2004 and 2005 reports and “to contact those contributors to get their occupations,” she said.
While she voted in favor of the campaign reform law in 2003, she said her staff analysis of House Bill 6 did not mention the new filing requirements.
“It was at the time of the state’s $10 billion shortfall, and I was concentrating at the time to minimize cuts on health and human services,” she said. “This just slipped by.”