On February 4, over 30 Coffee Party Austin folks heard from Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice. Craig has been studying money in politics for decades, and we asked him to provide some context to Brian Roberts’ presentation from January. And to update us with some information about spending in Texas in the 2010 elections.
We learned that regardless of source, most of our Texas elected officials receive their campaign funding from a very small number of very big donors. Craig’s reporting surprised us even though we have been paying fairly close attention to money in politics. The TPJ website has written an excellent report with some summaries as well as detailed, individual information about each officeholder. Also, this NY Times article reports on the donors of some of the “SuperPACS” we’ve been hearing so much about, including Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. The lack of corporate contributors there is noteworthy, as is the “generosity” of a handful of individuals.
Craig mentioned that transparency is a huge problem in Texas, and thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, it is becoming much more of a problem in federal elections as well. While SuperPACs have to disclose their donors, contributors can be shell corporations set up only to launder money so the public has no idea of its original source. It seems lawmakers have become brilliant at passing legislation that trivializes the meaning of words such as “democratic” or “transparent.”
As to the number of corporate donors to a single candidate for office, let’s examine the elected official who attracts the largest sums of money in Texas: Governor Rick Perry. It turns out that 17 of the largest 60 donors in Perry’s presidential SuperPAC, Make Us Great Again, are corporations. Related – half of the $102MM he has raised over his reign as governor has come from only 204 sources, which is .00000004% of all Texans.
For those of us who want to take action to make our government more representative of the wishes of most of the people, I think it’s safe to say that if we were to curtail the power of corporations and nothing else, we would still have a huge array of special interests that remain largely in control of our government. We have to remember the other corrupting factors such as individual funders, the lobbyist’s revolving door, voter cynicism and media ownership as contributors to the bending of our government. There will never be any simple answers, so we have to keep talking and take action at every reasonable opportunity.
Here at Coffee Party Austin, we want to make the ongoing effort collaborative and interesting so the work is intrinsically rewarding. We’re in this for the long haul.