The Lege’s Ledger

Folks from the Coffee Party’s Money-in-Politics group went to the State Capitol to visit the offices of the Austin-area state reps on Friday, Jan 21st.

I went there in my capacity as the campaign finance issue chair of the League of Women Voters of Texas. Andy Wilson from Public Citizen spearheaded our visit, so we demonstrated the camaraderie of 3 organizations that share some goals.

We visited 5 offices and met with senior staffers (Representative Elliott Naishtat sat down with us as well) and told them about our shared concern about the level of spending in the last election, which was almost twice the spending in the last mid-term election (in 2006). All the Austin reps share our concern, and will support measures that address this issue. Although campaign finance reform isn’t likely to get a lot of traction in this session, all elected officials need constant reminding that this is a big issue in the minds of most voters. We plan to contact other reps as well as the session progresses.

(BTW, Rep. Naishtat was eager to tell about his interview with John Oliver of The Daily Show, regarding some comments made by another representative about Speaker Strauss’s religious affiliation. Rep Naishtat assures us he will look like “an idiot.” The interview is scheduled for airing on Thursday, Jan. 27.)

Following is a list of bills (dealing with campaign finance) that have already been filed, along with a brief description of each. CP Austin will follow each of these and provide updates on whatever progress we see on any of them.

HB 226 (Strama)   This is similar to the bill filed in the last 2 sessions and also similar to current statute dealing with judicial campaigns. This measure would limit contributions in each election cycle as follows: statewide offices at $2,000, state senator at $1,000, state representative at $500, and the State Board of Education at $1,500. It also limits total spending by candidates in an election cycle. Candidates may choose not to comply, but must publicly declare this intention. If passed, this measure could incur court challenges in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of January 2010.

HB156 (Raymond)  This measure requires judges in the higher courts to recuse themselves from cases where they have received campaign contributions of $2,500 or more from any parties that have an interest in said case. This requirement can be waived if the opposing party in the case so agrees. The measure is a response to the Supreme Court case (Caperton v Massey) where an interested party spent millions to elect a West Virginia Supreme Court Justice, who then ruled in favor of the contributor. The majority SCOTUS decision stated that the public perception of judicial corruption requires judicial recusal when major campaign contributors are before the bench.

HB162 (Raymond) (the described provision)   This bill pertains mostly to the state budget but also contains a provision that forbids campaign contributions to statewide officeholders and members of the legislature during and around the time of the legislative session. This would address the more egregious examples of special interest influence by preventing contributions to candidates while they are deciding  whether or not to grant contracts to contributing entities.

HB 306 (Jackson)   This bill is about disclosure. It requires that all political advertisements from political action committees contain the identity of any person who has contributed more than $10,000 to said PAC.

HB 336 (Marquez)   This bill would require larger school districts to post on the Internet  reports of political contributions to and expenditures by members of the boards of trustees.

SB 59  (Zaffirini)   This measure is about disclosure. It would permit the use of the resources of the Texas Ethics Commission to report political contributions and expenditures made in connection with local governmental entities.

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