HB1348, the Smith-Eiland campaign finance reform bill, appears to be dead after an attempt yesterday to circumvent the usual committee process and bring it directly to the floor for a vote. That attempt failed on a 95-36 vote and some harsh words on the House floor.
"This is an unusual tactic," said Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galvston, one of the bill's 93 sponsors. "But we're afraid we'll never see (the bill) again."
But Republican Rep. Terry Keel of Austin, also a sponsor of the bill, questioned whether Democrats were using the bill as "a political tool to take shots at a member of the House."
Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, whose Senate run last year was stumped partly due to corporate-funded political ads that ran against him, asked Craddick Thursday afternoon to allow a vote to expedite the bill.
But Keel discouraged his colleagues from allowing the bill to circumvent the committee process, charging House Democratic Caucus Chair Jim Dunnam of using the bill to get a "partisan shot at the speaker."
Merritt said Keel also told him that pushing this legislation would mean "your political career will be over."
Keel said he didn't want to discuss the specifics of his exchange with Merritt, but said: "I do believe his effectiveness as a Republican in the House is over. ... Tommy Merritt betrayed the Republican Party today."
He said he thought Merritt's motivation in pushing for the measure stems from his dislike for Craddick, which Keel said is "commonly known around the House floor."
Merritt dismissed Keel's statements as politics and said he thought it was all part of an effort to draw attention away from campaign finance reform.
"This has nothing to do with the speaker. This whole issue is all about ethics," he said.
"A lot of people say things," he said. "And when the bill dies, the issue dies."
Dunnam said Republicans overreacted to Merritt's measure.
"They don't want to vote on an ethics bill," he said. "The use of corporate money in this manner is a trademark of the Republicans and I don't think they're willing to bring it up. Obviously it's not in their interest."
Rep. Mary Denny, the Elections Committee chairwoman, has said the bill probably will die on a 4-3 committee vote as early as Monday.
Although almost two-thirds of the House co-sponsored the bill, supporters considered its passage a long shot because Craddick, R-Midland, and several of his lieutenants, including [Rep. Bryan] Hughes and Denny, were helped either directly or indirectly in the 2002 elections by corporate money, the type of spending that would be banned under the bill.