Bucking Our System: Only voters' voice can fix money-politics nexusWednesday, October 18, 2006
Dallas Morning News
Over the last week, Texans have awakened to news that:
• One gubernatorial candidate is getting a million-dollar donation from one trial lawyer.
• The incumbent governor has received more than $130,000 from individuals or interests with a vested interest in his support for their new coal-fired power plants.
• Our state leads the nation in the number of lawmakers who walk out one door and walk back in another as lobbyists. Well-paid lobbyists. Very well-paid lobbyists.
Who says money isn't the mother's milk of politics?
But here's the deal: Democrats can't complain about Gov. Rick Perry taking those power-plant contributions; Republicans can't carp about Democrat Chris Bell taking a big, fat check from a trial lawyer. By current election law, both are on firm legal standing. They're all in this thing together.
That makes it hard for us to hope that the Legislature cleans up this mess when it meets again in January. Folks with their hands in the till usually don't make the best reformers.
Still, our state needs serious changes in its campaign-finance laws. Need a starting point? How about a $10,000 cap on how much an individual, business partnership or political or law firm can contribute to a single candidate during an election cycle? Several states have tighter limits.
In 1903, the Legislature banned outright donations from corporations and unions, but there's room for hanky-panky since corporations and unions can set up political action committees. Putting a cap on everyone's donations, along with full-disclosure laws, would rein in some of the excessive personal, business, PAC and trial-lawyer giving.
Likewise, following Congress' rules on revolving doors would limit Austin's legislate-for-hire culture. Capitol Hill requires former members of Congress to sit out one full term, or two years, before lobbying.
Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice tells us that 26 states have some cooling-off period. Most, he says, require lawmakers to wait two years before lobbying. That sounds good to us.
We hope these changes sound good to voters, too. Until they speak up, we're going to have to live with these kinds of headlines.