While we all bring varied points of view to the political process, there is certainly one principle we can all agree on—the law should apply equally to all. State law requires that the name of any political action committee make its purpose clear. It’s a truth-in- labeling law for PACs.
Clearly, the Legislature intended Texans be able to tell who a PAC represents just from hearing its name. As state Rep. Glen Maxey (D-Austin) stated when this issue was debated, “It’s just truthfulness in PAC names –it ensures honesty in disclosure.”
(Click graph for a better look)
Fair enough, but not everyone is playing by the rules. Some have chosen to skirt the spirit of the law by funding vaguely named political action committees. Why is that a problem? Because the public is left in the dark as to who is paying for some political campaigns.
Potentially the biggest player in the November state elections is not the Republicans or Democrats, it’s the personal injury lawyers. But you wouldn’t know it by simply peeking at their PAC contribution reports. The trial lawyers are riding a new horse into the November elections –some call it a Trojan Horse. And this horse is well fed and it is ready to make hay in the upcoming elections.
A small number of trial lawyers have camouflaged their political giving by sinking big dollars into two obscurely named PACs: Texas 2000 and the Constitutional Defense Fund. Together these PACs raised $1.95 million in the first six months of this year. It’s an impressive number, especially when you consider it is more than double the combined money raised by both the Texas Republican and Democratic parties.
Nearly every dollar contributed to these two stealth PACs have come from trial lawyers. But no one can tell from the names who Texas 2000 or the Constitutional Defense Fund represent. The truth is they represent wealthy personal injury lawyers. The trial lawyers have their own PAC aptly titled the Texas Trial Lawyers Association PAC. But now they’ve created an auxiliary PAC, a stealth PAC: apparently, to camouflage their true level of giving.
Texas 2000 was funded primarily by $200,000 each from attorneys John Eddie Williams, Walter Umphrey, Wayne Reaud and Harold Nix, private lawyers who sued tobacco companies on behalf of the state. The Constitutional Defense Fund was funded by Reaud, Williams, and fellow tobacco lawyer John O’Quinn.
(Click here for a list of the biggest givers to the Texas 2000 PAC)
Don’t get me wrong. These lawyers have every right to give to the candidates and issues of their choosing. But we as voters also have the right to know who is paying for these campaigns. So, when you hear Texas 2000 and Constitutional Defense Fund know that these are the trial lawyers cloaked in a new name with presumably the same old agenda.
"This amendment is truth in political action committee names. It merely says that a general/specific purpose political action committee must list in its name the corporation, organization, or association or legal entity that controls that political action committee. This is so you don't have 'good government league.' You would instead have 'good government league of the bank of whatever.' It's just truthfulness in PAC names – it ensures honesty in disclosure."
State Rep. Glen Maxey, D-Austin
Second Reading, Senate Bill 1
Floor of the Texas House
May 16, 1991
It’s time we had greater disclosure in campaign financing. For instance, the Texas 2000 PAC might more appropriately be named the Texas Trial Lawyer 2000 PAC. Requiring campaigns to report a contributor’s occupation and employer would also be an improvement. Other reforms might require statewide candidates to report large contributions made during the last 10 days before the election. Some suggest we should disallow all contributions in the last 10 days before an election altogether. Then no candidate or campaign could take late-breaking money without public disclosure. Lastly, Texas should consider requiring out-of-state PACs to report their expenditures in Texas races. Currently, 38 states require out-of-state PACs to report all contributions to state candidates. Texas is not among them.
Our campaign finance laws should ensure honesty in disclosure. Currently, there are loads of loopholes in which political givers can hide or obscure their identity. The public would be better served if there were less opportunities to camouflage contributions.
Adams is a Houston businessman and a trustee of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Houston.