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Expect “dark money” to stay dark

Nice recommendations, but they’re not going anywhere.


Labeling so-called dark money spending a corrupting force in the democratic process, the House Committee on State Affairs issued a set of recommendations after Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, directed the panel a year ago to dive into the topic during the interim.

Strauss and his lieutenants have been frequent targets of the state’s highest-spending politically active 501(c)(4), Empower Texas.

Nonprofits established under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(4) currently are allowed to spend money to influence elections but do not have to reveal who is funding the efforts. The groups have argued their donor lists are constitutionally protected.

Campaign cash from politically active nonprofits that do not disclose donors represents just a fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into Texas elections.

But lawmakers on the House panel said in the report that “if we fail to act, we leave the opportunity for a growing number of entities to anonymously manipulate and control our elections, which undermines the democratic process.”

“The ability to give and spend anonymously through highly sophisticated means, often by obtaining 501(c)(4) status, corrupts the free democratic process for everyone,” the report said. “It is fundamentally vital that the legislature increase the transparency of our campaign finance system and protect the integrity of our elections, while providing for laws that meet constitutional scrutiny.”


Among the recommendations included in the report are a call for the Legislature to pass a bill to “ensure all political entities spending substantial funds to influence elections” be required to disclose donors like a traditional political action committee.

The panel also recommended lawmakers require 501(c)(4)s to provide a check box for donors to opt out of having their money used for politicking, a model that’s currently used in Utah, which was rocked by a dark money scandal in 2013.

You may recall that a bill like this passed out of the Lege last time, where it was met by Rick Perry’s veto pen. That’s the one where Dan Patrick demanded a re-vote because he didn’t realize what he had voted for the first time. He won’t make that mistake again. Expect this one to get deep-sixed in the Senate. Patrick and his minions like their money dark.

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