April 04, 2003
Ronnie Earle, the hardest working man in Austin

As if investigating Tom DeLay's political committee TRM and secret legislative meetings weren't enough, Travis County DA Ronnie Earle is back in court arguing that the Texas Association of Business should not be allowed to hide its donor list from a grand jury investigation.

At Earle's request, a Travis County grand jury is investigating a $2 million campaign that TAB ran last year to help 20 Republicans win House seats. The effort helped give the GOP a majority in the House, and that led to the election of Republican Tom Craddick as speaker.

State law bans the use of corporate money to politick directly for or against a candidate. Donations to candidates by individuals or political action committees must be disclosed.

TAB has admitted that it used corporate donations to fund its advertising. But it argues that the donations were legal and are not subject to disclosure because the advertising discussed candidates' positions on business-related issues and did not specifically advocate the election or defeat of anyone.

TAB claims that its First Amendment rights to free speech and free association will be violated if it has to surrender a list of its corporate donors to the grand jury.

This case has implications in two lawsuits that I noted in November.

I have to say that I want the judge to rule in Earle's favor, not because I'm a "sore loser" (as the TAB claims Earle is) over last November's election, but because I think that politics should be open and not secret. I think that TAB should be free to raise money and run issues ads, as long as those ads identify TAB as the creator of the ad, and the source of TAB's money for those ads is publicly available. Basically, I don't think corporations should have the same rights as individuals do here. I believe the public interest in knowing who's paying for whose election overrides the interest of TAB's memberships to pay for advertisements anonymously.

For the record, I used to favor McCain/Feingold-style campaign finance reform. I've since come to the conclusion that attempting to limit political money is like building sandcastles to slow down the tide. I'll settle for knowing who's paying for what in a timely manner.

I recognize that there's all sorts of slippery slope potential in there, but I don't think what's being advocated by Ronnie Earle is particularly broad. And frankly, if there were stonger laws in place that protected consumers' privacy, I'd be a tad more sympathetic to the bidnessmen here.

There are some good quotes which are not in the Chron story here and here. Once again, thanks to Alfredo Garcia for the heads up.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 04, 2003 to Scandalized! | TrackBack