Who's Buying S.D.3?

"Lawyers are like ICBM's," says a junk-bond king in Other People's Money. "The other side has theirs, so you have to have yours." In the U.S. political system, the same is true of campaign contributors: If you don't have big-monied backers, you don't get to play the game.

For the average voter, without specialized knowledge and equipment and lots of free time, it is literally impossible to sort out who the major financial interests underwriting specific candidates are, at least until after the election, when it no longer matters. In the state Senate District 3 race, the most recent reporting day was October 10 -- but late money is reportedly now pouring into the campaigns, particularly into that of Republican Todd Staples, where the corporate "tort-reform" PAC called Texans for Lawsuit Reform is said to be heavily and directly involved. (The idea behind tort reform is that Texas law and Texas juries have been too generous to citizens who sue big corporations with deep pockets. For more then 10 years, the tort reformers have been electing candidates and passing laws that make it far more difficult for an individual to file suit against a corporate defendant.)

The following charts give a striking portrait of the big money underwriting the Staples and Fisher campaigns, and the most prominent sources for both candidates. The charts were compiled by Craig McDonald, Andrew Wheat, and staff at the nonpartisan Texans for Public Justice (www.tpj.org). Staples, as expected, is relying heavily on the Republican Party, big corporate, industrial, and "tort-reform" PACs. (Note also the construction and restaurant PACs on Staples' list: These industries are unalterably opposed to personal injury lawsuits and to any increases in the minimum wage.) Fisher is drawing from the Democrats, independent plaintiffs' law firms (so-called "trial lawyers"), and union PACs.

As for the "carpetbagger" canard: Both candidates are collecting plenty of money from the tonier neighborhoods of Dallas and Houston, as well as the wheeler-dealer political PACs of Austin. Rather than simply deciding which one of these candidates is the most personable fellow, a voter should take a look at these competing interests and ask: Which of these political/financial coalitions most closely represents my interests? That's the real choice.

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