Looser rules on funding for political ads is fearedR.G. Ratcliffe-Austin Bureau
San Antonio Express
AUSTIN — Legislation is moving in the House that could allow corporate and labor union money to be used for issue advertising that promotes the election or defeat of a political candidate, according to campaign finance reform advocates.
A bill by House Elections Committee Chairman Leo Berman, R-Tyler, defines how such money can be employed to pay the administrative expenses of a political committee.
The bill bans its use for electioneering. But because it does not define "electioneering," campaign finance reform advocates fear it will be used to justify issue advertising involving candidates.
"I would presume it would be their intent to keep the current definition of electioneering, which would be applying the magic words test, which I find problematic," said Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless.
Berman says his bill would ban all corporate and labor union money from political campaigns.
The "magic words test" determines whether an ad contains the words "vote for" or "vote against." Without such words, an advertisement could support or attack a candidate's record without violating campaign finance laws prohibiting the use of corporate or labor union money in a campaign for office.
Such issue advertising in the 2002 elections for the House prompted a criminal investigation that led to the indictment of the Texas Association of Business, as well as former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and others.
Lawyers for TAB, DeLay and his Texans for a Republican Majority have argued the indictments sought by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle were improper because state law allows political committees to raise corporate money for administrative expenses.
Berman's bill continues to allow that while prohibiting such money to go toward political consulting in support of or opposing a candidate, telephone banks, political fundraising, partisan voter registration drives, voter identification lists and "electioneering brochures and electioneering direct mail."
Campaign finance reform advocate Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice said that is not adequate.
"Under the Election Code, electioneering is not defined," McDonald said.
Smith is offering legislation that would prohibit corporate or labor union money from being used within 30 days of an election in advertising or telephone banks that mention a candidate.
Campaign finance reform advocates Wednesday were promoting Smith's bill along with campaign contribution limits being proposed by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio. His bill would cap at $100,000 how much money an individual can donate in aggregate during a two-year election cycle.