Monday, April 25, 2005

What's the Matter With Texas

this is an audio post - click to play

As Laylan Copeland reports in the Austin-American Statesman, HB 1348, a campaign finance bill in the Texas Legislature, is generating a great deal of attention and controversy amongst the political power class in Texas.

In 2002, TRMPAC used corporate money to pay for election expenses, including polling and phone banks. Current Texas law allows corporate contributions to candidates or parties only for administrative expenses, like office supplies or rent. HB 1348 would bar parties from spending corporate or union money on consultants, electioneering, fund raising, polling or voter identification, and would bar political action committees like TRMPAC from using corporate or union money on anything but overhead and in-house communications.

Also in 2002, unknown sums of corporate money were used to fund ads which attacked or promoted candidates, although stopping short of explicitly advocating for a candidate's defeat or election. HB 1348 would include such attack ads in its definition of advocacy even if they don't use the words "support" or oppose", meaning those ads would be subject to campaign finance limits and disclosure requirements.

Despite the support of a bipartisan coalition of nearly two-thirds of the Texas House, HB 1348 faces formidable opposition from the corporate interests whose influence it checks and from the culture of lobbyists, political consultants, and self-interested legislators whose power base would be reduced to more accurately reflect their popular support.

Even if HB 1348 eventually becomes law - an event made difficult by the fact that the self-interested legislators mentioned in the previous paragraph hold key positions of power along the legislative path - regular Texans will still be priced out of the political process by the ability of rich individuals to make unlimited donations to candidates.

Until that problem gets fixed, democracy in the heart of Texas will be neither big nor bright.

The Texas House Elections Committee voted down HB 1348 yesterday, refusing to send the bill to the floor for a vote despite its support among 93 of the 150 members of the House.

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