Campaign finance bill gets House approvalMeasure would define the use of corporate funds raised by PACs
By LISA SANDBERG
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
April 24, 2007
AUSTIN — The Texas House on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a campaign finance bill that more clearly defines how corporations can spend money raised through their political action committees.
But critics say the bill, by Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, who chairs the House Elections Committee, would do little or nothing to rein in corporate money in politics.
Craig McDonald, executive director of the Austin-based campaign finance reform group, Texans for Public Justice, said the bill "should have taken the opportunity to define (issue advertisements) and should have made it clear that corporations can only support their own political action committees."
McDonald said corporate money in the past has been used to fund issue ads that were political in nature, even though the ads did not specifically say "vote for" or "vote against" a particular person.
Such issue advertising in the 2002 elections for the Texas House prompted an investigation that led to the indictment of the Texas Association of Business, former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and others.
Berman's bill clarifies a list of administrative expenses that corporations and unions can fund under Texas law through their political action committees. They include office space, telephones and utilities.
The bill also spells out expenditures that corporations and unions cannot fund, including political consulting to support or oppose a candidate, telephone banks to communicate with voters to support or oppose a candidate, electioneering brochures and direct mail.
Berman said he tried to win over critics by defining electioneering, a nonpermissible expenditure, which he said includes political campaigning or direct mail. He said he couldn't fathom anyone opposing his bill now. "It specifies what you can and cannot do," he said.