March 24, 2005
Another bill to weaken campaign finance laws

Yo! Rep. Sylvester Turner! What the hell are you doing?

Legislation that would allow political candidates and committees to violate legal restrictions on contributions without being subject to civil, monetary penalties has been filed in the Texas House by a member of Speaker Tom Craddick's leadership team.

The president of a campaign-finance watchdog group called the bill a "disaster" for campaign ethics.

The sponsor, Speaker Pro Tem Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said the measure, which he didn't write, is more far-reaching than he intended and said he will scale it back to cover only minor violations of campaign-reporting requirements.

"I've got to look to see what's all included in there," he said when asked about the legislation.

As filed, House Bill 3148, which is pending in the House Elections Committee, would repeal sections of state law that allow opponents or the state to sue for monetary penalties from candidates and committees that make or accept illegal political donations.


The bill wouldn't affect Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle's continuing criminal investigation into the use of corporate money in the 2002 legislative races. And it would allow the Texas Ethics Commission to continue issuing administrative fines for campaign-finance violations.

But [Fred Lewis, president of Campaigns for People, a nonpartisan campaign-finance reform group], said the Ethics Commission has never acted aggressively against violators. Criminal investigations are rare, he said, because many campaign violations are misdemeanors.

The possibility of a civil lawsuit although relatively few are filed is a greater deterrent to illegal campaign activity, Lewis said.

"The bill is a disaster. It will essentially gut the civil enforcement of our election code," he added.

Turner said he accepted the bill from another legislator, whom he declined to identify. He said the lawmaker wasn't Craddick.

Turner said his intent was to restrict lawsuits brought over a candidate's failure to fully identify all political contributors, including addresses, on campaign finance filings.

Where to begin?

First, if you're going to submit a bill with the goal that it will do X, don't actually sumbit a bill whose language indicates it will do Y and Z and then tell us you'll fix it before it comes to a vote. Get the intent right up front before you hand it in so we're all clear from the beginning what you've got in mind. And if that means that you're unable to meet the deadline for filing new legislation, tough. If that's the case, it couldn't have been that great a priority for you.

Second...Let me get this straight. At a time when there's a bipartisan and broadly supported effort to strengthen campaign finance laws, you're submitting a bill to roll back existing laws, and you're doing it on behalf of some other legislator who apparently hasn't got the guts to let you say his or her name in public? You do know that there's also a scurrilous partisan effort to weaken campaign finance laws, right? Whose bidding are you doing and why are you doing it?

I can understand your change of heart on gambling, even if I don't agree with it and even if I fear that it's a tactical error to do so. But this? This I don't understand at all. Help me out here, Rep. Turner. What the hell are you doing?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 24, 2005 to That's our Lege | TrackBack


Posted by: Jim D on March 24, 2005 8:18 AM

What does it mean that he is "a member of Speaker Tom Craddick's leadership team"?

And what's this?

"Turner said he accepted the bill from another legislator, whom he declined to identify."

Keep me updated!

Posted by: jesselee on March 24, 2005 8:26 AM