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Call for contribution caps

A bill to limit campaign contributions to $100,000 per individual for state races has been filed.

At a morning news conference flanked by a dozen or so of his colleagues, including five Republicans, House Bill 110 co-author Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, spoke about his plan.

He said it represented a first step in limiting the influence of a handful of wealthy individuals whose power stems not from “the virtue of their ideals or the strength of their grassroots network but because they spend million of dollars.”

I forget where I read it, but it’s my understanding that the five Republicans standing with Rep. Villarreal were the five incumbents targeted by James Leininger – Tommy Merritt, Carter Casteel, Delwin Jones, Roy Blake, and Charlie Geren. El Paso Rep. Pat Haggerty also endorsed the effort; he too was targeted by Leininger, though at a lower financial level.

Standing behind Villarreal was outgoing Rep. Carter Casteel, R-New Braunfels, one of two incumbents who lost to Leininger-funded candidates. She said that as a schoolteacher, she taught her students that the Legislature was not for sale

Now, sadly, she said she realized maybe she’d been wrong.

“I never dreamed that in my Texas, a person would spend $1 million for a legislative seat,” she said.

According to the Quorum Report (link via PinkDome), Casteel “asked her party to pay as much attention to transparency in campaign donations as it does to transparency in the operation of public schools.” I think that’s a fantastic way to frame the issue, and it’s one that I hope gets used in 2007 when Casteel isn’t there to repeat it.

Eighty-seven individuals or couples gave $100,000 or more in contributions for statewide offices in 2003 and 2004, for a total of $28.8 million, according to the Austin-based watchdog group Texans for Public Justice. That represents about 9 percent of all political money raised during that two-year election cycle.

That’s about $331,000 per individual. Institute the cap, and their grand total is $8.7 million instead of $28.8 million; no one can exactly claim to be silenced by this. Some 37 states have contribution caps, so I don’t believe there’s a constitutional issue at play.

Advocates of campaign spending limits acknowledge that this plan, which caps contributions regardless of the number of candidates being supported, faces an uphill battle. Gov. Rick Perry opposes campaign limits and supports the state’s current disclosure law. His approval is needed for legislation to be added to the current special session.

Also, an almost identical bill died last year without leaving committee.

For sure, there’s no way this gets added to the special session call. I have some hope for the next regular session, however, even if Perry gets re-elected. I believe Leininger’s efforts have changed some minds, and I believe the movement is in the reform direction. Mary Denny’s retirement doesn’t hurt, either. I still wouldn’t bet on a bill passing, but the issue will come up, and I believe we’ll see progress being made.

Two weeks ago, the Express-News ran a four-part series on Texas lobbyists that identified the role wealthy special interests play in shaping policies affecting businesses, consumers and children in need of health care. Austin insiders expressed skepticism that a reform could pass.

Links to those articles are here. More reporting on the story is here.

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One Comment

  1. Kuff's World says:

    The squeeze on Wong

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