The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

Buying Political Insurance

By Jordan Smith, March 7, 2003, News

In a press conference Feb. 26, nonprofit election reformers Campaigns for People released revised numbers showing the insurance industry donated at least $1.3 million to Texas statewide and legislative candidates in the 2002 election cycle. More than $211,000 of that went to lawmakers now sitting on the House and Senate committees now considering insurance reform bills; insurers donated nearly $175,000 to members of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, which is currently gnashing over Sen. Mike Jackson's "file and use" reform proposal. CFP President Fred Lewis said that total comes out to $19,400 per senator, nearly equal to the state's annual per capita income.

But CFP is quick to point out that there is likely more insurance cash than we know, since Texas campaign laws don't require candidates to list the employer or occupation of individual contributors. Nationally, individual donations account for nearly 45% of insurance industry contributions, so the Texas total may in fact be closer to $3 million.

This is only one of many deficiencies in Texas' campaign-finance system, Lewis said. As such, CFP and a host of other groups -- from Houston's Memorial West Republican Women's Club to the state chapter of the NAACP -- have formed the Show Us the Money Coalition, seeking to strengthen state campaign-finance laws. Among their priorities: closing the individual-donor loophole, forcing all candidates to file reports electronically, requiring out-of-state political action committees to file like in-state PACs, and authorizing the Texas Ethics Commission to perform random audits of campaign-finance reports. "In essence, we have a voluntary reporting system," said Lewis. "And voluntary compliance is not the same as enforcement."

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