April 19, 2007
Not the campaign finance reform bill I was expecting

Yesterday, there was a rally in front of the Capitol in support of three bills to limit campaign spending in Texas. Far as I can tell, nothing much happened to them. But one bill did make it out of committee, and it has to do with a familiar subject.

A bill by House Elections Committee Chairman Leo Berman, R-Tyler, defines how such money can be employed to pay the administrative expenses of a political committee.

The bill bans its use for electioneering. But, because it does not define "electioneering," campaign-finance reform advocates fear it will be used to justify issue advertising involving candidates for office.

"I would presume it would be their intent to keep the current definition of electioneering, which would be applying the magic words test, which I find problematic," said Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless.

Berman insists his bill would ban all corporate and labor-union money from political campaigns.


The [Texas Association of Business] has argued that its spending of $1.7 million in corporate money for issue advertising in more than 20 House races [in 2002] did not violate the law because none of the pieces advocated the election or defeat of a candidate. All the pieces attacked the business-issue track records of Democrats running for office.

Lawyers for TAB, DeLay and his Texans for a Republican Majority have argued the indictments sought by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle were improper because state law allows political committees to raise corporate money for administrative expenses.

Berman's bill continues to allow that while prohibiting such money to go toward political consulting in support of or opposing a candidate; telephone banks; political fundraising; partisan voter-registration drives; voter-identification lists and "electioneering brochures and electioneering direct mail."

I can't say I trust Leo Berman, but the bill passed out of committee unanimously, which means that Lon Burnam, Rafael Anchia, and Joe Farias also voted for it. That's reassuring. I'm not sure that specifying what's forbidden works better than common sense, and I fear that making a list will make it easier for someone to game it later on, but perhaps I'm overthinking it. We'll see what happens.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 19, 2007 to That's our Lege