One never really expects bills relating to ethics and campaign finance reform to make it through the process, but it’s still a good idea to keep an eye on them.
In the last session, for example, at least 105 bills related to general ethics, lobbying or campaign-finance were filed. Only nineteen became law.
This session, members of the House and Senate again are considering more than 100 bills.
Among them are bills that would places caps on individual campaign donations to candidates, prohibit former lawmakers from immediately becoming lobbyists and prevent campaign payments to relatives.
Another bill, filed by Charlie Geren, R-River Oaks, would make lawmakers who run afoul of the ethics rules pay fines to the Texas Ethics Commission with personal funds, rather than with campaign donations.
“It makes a bigger impression on you if you write your own check rather than out of campaign dollars,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me to fine me $500, or $50,000, and I can just go down the hall, raise it and pay it.”
Geren said some of his colleagues strongly objected to his bill. Among the other bills that could face challenges is a measure that would explicitly prohibit any payments of campaign funds to relatives.
The bill, by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, is a reaction to recent ethics findings against lawmakers who, for example, hired their wives as campaign bookkeepers.
“We’re trying to make sure that campaign contributions are used in furtherance of another cause, and that it’s not a slush fund to pay members of your family,” she said.
Another bill would restrict the most prolific donors from giving more than $100,000 in total to all candidates during an election cycle.
Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, for example, has donated more than $2.1 million to elected officials from both parties since January 2008, according to campaign finance reports.
Geren’s bill is HB477, Thompson’s is HB3178. It’s hard to argue with Geren’s bill, since what he describes is generally what happens. I will say that TEC enforcement, such as it is, tends to be a bit capricious, and their guidelines are not nearly as concise as they should be; as such, I’m at least somewhat sympathetic to claims that this will be unfair to the members who aren’t as well-heeled as some of their colleagues. Still, I think the general principle is correct. As for Rep. Thompson’s bill, the poster child here is Christi Craddick (latter link is a PDF). Were it not for abuses like that, I wouldn’t care much about a bill like that, but if it weren’t for abuses like that such a bill likely wouldn’t exist in the first place.
The contributions limit bill is HB391, by Reps. Mike Villarreal and Mark Strama; both have introduced legislation like this in previous sessions. It’s something I’ve been calling for myself for some time now, so I’ll be rooting for it. As with the others, I don’t really expect it to get anywhere, but bills like these serve a useful purpose regardless. If nothing else, I look forward to hearing what the opponents have to say about it.