Group seeks limit on political contributions09/21/2006
San Antonio Express-News
AUSTIN — The multimillion-dollar political largesse of Texans including Houston home builder Bob Perry and San Antonio businessman James Leininger should be cut drastically, a coalition of citizen groups said Thursday.
The coalition called for a $100,000 aggregate limit on individual contributors for each two-year election cycle.
"If this is truly to be a House of the people, we've got to make sure that the voices of citizens aren't drowned out by the checkbooks of the few," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice.
McDonald was joined by representatives from Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, Gray Panthers of Texas and the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission at a news conference outside the Texas House chamber.
The groups unveiled a five-point reform agenda for lawmakers to consider next year. Other proposals would prohibit legislators from lobbying for two years after they leave office; end partisan judicial elections by initially appointing judges and later having them stand in retention elections; record all non-ceremonial legislative votes; and create an independent redistricting commission.
All the changes have a common element, McDonald said.
"Each in its own way would loosen the grip that special interests, the super-rich, the well-funded, the well-organized industries hold over our state's democratic institutions," he said.
Perry and his wife, Doylene Perry, have given $4.5 million to Texas candidates over the past two years, and Leininger and his wife have contributed $4 million, according to McDonald.
The Perrys and the Leiningers give most of their money to Republican candidates, but the third-biggest giver, Dallas attorney Fred Baron, donates primarily to Democrats. Baron gave $1 million between January 2005 and July 2006.
Leininger spent most of his money in this year's Republican primary as he tried to defeat lawmakers who had voted against a school voucher bill. His spokesman, Ken Hoagland, said Leininger will be supporting pro-voucher candidates in the November general election.
"His interest is to open up greater opportunities for low-income children to get a good education, and to do that he will abide, as he always has, by any rules that are in place," Hoagland said.
Anthony Holm, a spokesman for Bob Perry, said the proposal would let some large law firms continue to donate millions of dollars.
"It appears the intention of these groups is to stop donors they oppose from fully participating in the political process while their trial lawyer buddies continue to give millions of dollars through their law firms, just not as individuals," he said.
Weston Ware, who has lobbied against gambling for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, called for a constitutional amendment that would require all non-ceremonial votes to be on the record.
Although both the House and Senate strengthened their rules last session to require more record votes, Ware said those rules could be abandoned.