The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

Lege for sale

By Amy Smith, June 10, 2005, News

As if we needed any more evidence of how corporate money dictates the actions (or inactions) of the Texas Legislature, along comes more proof. The newest findings, released last week by the watchdog group Campaigns for People, illustrate the veritable free-for-all that exists when corporate and union dollars enter the political arena. State law bans spending such money on political campaign activity, yet legal loop-holes prevent any significant regulatory enforcement, says Fred Lewis, executive director of Campaigns for People.

The Lege's impasse on school finance centered on a major dispute over how much in taxes businesses should have to pay. It happens that corporations already pay plenty – to the state Republican Party. The report shows that in 2004, the GOP raised nearly $1.6 million in corporate money – more than half of its state funds. During the same period, the state Democratic Party took in more than $671,400 in corporate and union money, or about 37% of its state funds. (Chances are good that the Dems would have more corporate/union dollars in their war chest if they were still in charge.) In any case, the Dems' top donors included the AFL-CIO ($45,500); Patterson Planning & Services ($25,000); Texas State Teachers Association ($15,400) and Texas Electrical Workers ($10,000). That's peanuts when compared to the GOP's take from its top three donors – $200,750 from Anheuser-Busch, and $100,000 each from Massey Coal and Philip Morris. (Anheuser-Busch chipped in just $21,000 to the state Dems.)

A bill that was intended to fix the loopholes on corporate money didn't survive the session, but Lewis and others have vowed to step up reform efforts in the next legislative round. An ongoing criminal probe into the role that corporate money played in the 2002 legislative races, and a recent district court ruling (to be appealed) in a related civil case could also influence the legislature's next move on campaign finance.

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