Friday, December 13, 2013

Corporate Super PACs now allowed in all Texas elections

I rail on about the poisoning influence of money in politics for many reasons.  This is one of them.

The Watchdog wants you to know how Texas government and politics are about to change in a fundamental way. A little-noticed lawsuit has cleared the way for a historic switch. For the first time, corporations can make direct contributions to super PACs to influence state, county, local and school board elections in Texas.

You mean like that U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision that did the same for federal races?

Exactly. In lawyer talk, this aligns Texas with the federal ruling.

Cut the lawyer talk. What does this mean for the average voter?

In the darkest scenario, a millionaire donor from out-of-state could chuck gobs of money into a school board race and overthrow a board. Woe to a town mayor who upsets a big company. Small-town races could suddenly see a massive influx of corporate money handled through what state officials call “direct campaign expenditure only committees.”

I don’t get it.

Corporations were not allowed to donate to Texas elections through committees or any other way. Now they can pool their money with individual donors in these new political action committees. And these super PACs, although not allowed to make direct contributions to candidates, can spend unlimited amounts to campaign for one side or another. They will supposedly operate independent of the candidates.

How did this happen?

A group called Texans for Free Enterprise filed a federal lawsuit against the Texas Ethics Commission. The state lost. Dallas lawyer Chris Gober is the winning lawyer.

What does he say?

He says, “It’s very controversial. Some people certainly take the position that the more money in politics, the worse. What this particular decision represents is us requiring the state of Texas to recognize the bounds of the First Amendment that have been established by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Corporations still cannot donate directly to candidates, Gober says. “What the law still does is prevent corporations from actively engaging with candidates and giving direct money to candidates in ways that create the danger of quid pro quo corruption.”

Do you think that’s true, Watchdog Man?

We’ll see. What we do know is that corporations will have more power to influence Texas elections than ever, and they were no shrinking violet before this. Gober says, “A lot of people believe that corporations are affected by government policies more so than individuals, that they have the right to engage in the debate to determine how the people are going to be governed.”

Are there limits to the donations?

No limits.

What does the losing party, the Texas Ethics Commission, say?

Officials are changing state election law. TEC general counsel Natalia Ashley says, “It’s hard to know how it’s going to impact races since this is the first time it will be allowed.”

Watchdog, did you talk to a political expert?

I did. Cal Jillson, the SMU political science professor, says that since individuals could already donate unlimited amounts to Texas races, this won’t have a dramatic effect. He suggests that some corporations will be hesitant to get involved in races: “Their customers are on both sides of divisive issues.”

What about Allan Saxe, over at the University of Texas at Arlington?

Saxe tells The Watchdog: “I’m for free speech. It may be unfair, but the First Amendment doesn’t talk about fairness. It talks about freedom, and that’s what the case is based on. In our society, everybody is trying to be fair and make everybody equal. … Money is not fair. But as long as people earn their money honestly and legally, I have no quarrel with it.”

What can the rest of us do, Watchdog?

My suggestion: Voters must pay attention to where political money comes from, why donors are giving and what they hope to get out of it. Contributor information and PAC registration will be available for free viewing on the Texas Ethics Commission website.

Obviously there are far too many people invested in the status quo -- all the way down to university political science professors -- for this development to be slowed down, stopped, or rolled back any time soon.  The efforts of organizations like Move to Amend simply can't keep up.  Of all of the recent developments suggesting that the tide is turning in Texas, this one law will see to it that the corporate politicians on both sides of the aisle will hang on much longer than we the people want.

To paraphrase Jesse Ventura, they're already dug in like an Alabama tick.

What they taught me in Boy Scouts about how to remove a tick was to light a match, blow it out, apply it to the tick's backside, and when he releases, grab him and crush him.  Trust me, it works.

That's the only way we're going to get rid of these blood-sucking insects attached to our democracy.

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