Efforts to strengthen the state’s campaign finance reporting laws collapsed in the waning hours of the Legislative session.
House and Senate negotiators failed to agree on a compromise that would have given voters a better idea of who is bankrolling political campaigns in Texas. Each side blamed the other for the bill’s failure.
Governor Perry said the bill’s demise was his greatest regret to emerge from the 140-day session.
“I’m disappointed that the leadership of the House felt it was important enough for them to kill this piece of legislation over the issue of whether or not you should put on your report the occupation of a contributor or to tell your cash on hand,” Perry said.
House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, shot back, saying the governor “did nothing” to advance the bill.
Insiders say it is anyone’s guess as to whether lawmakers were committed to their conviction or simply lacked the will to pass a strong campaign-finance bill.
The chief House negotiator, Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, said the Senate approach would “make it easier for corporations to give money through the backdoor and allow the proliferation of last minute” political action committees.
Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said the House approach was weaker in several areas, including an effort pressed by Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, that stripped the Senate requirement of reporting the occupation and employer of those who gave $500 or more.
The federal government has required this disclosure since the mid-1970s. Texas has required this information for contributors of more than $50 to judicial candidates since 1995.
An analysis of recent statewide campaign reports reveals that less than one-fourth of 1 percent of all Texans gives more than $500.
In a recent floor debate Wolens characterized himself and fellow colleagues as “two-bit politicians” and “citizen legislators” ill-equipped to take on the added accounting responsibilities. Wolens argued that collection of a contributor’s occupation and employer would be too burdensome for part-time lawmakers who have little or no full-time staff.
Of the 29 states that require reporting of employer and occupation, 23 are led by part-time legislators. Apparently, none of these states found the requirement so burdensome as to rescind it.
Other important provisions of the Texas bill would have required candidates to report large contributions in the last nine days before an election and out-of-state political action committees, or PACs, to report their expenditures in Texas, just like in-state PACs. This is the law in 38 states.
The House version included a truth-in-labeling provision that would have required PACs to be named so as to identify the occupation of its principal block of givers.
This was the third consecutive session a campaign finance overhaul has died.