I think the answer to that question is probably “No”, but given the Citizens United ruling and the effect it had in the 2010 election, one cannot rule it out.
Immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, the Texas Ethics Commission, acting within state law, issued rules for individual corporations or unions to disclose their spending to elect or defeat candidates. But the commission was silent on whether groups or associations have to disclose their donors and left that issue to the Texas Legislature, which will return Jan. 11.
Rep. Todd Smith , a Euless Republican and chairman of the House Elections Committee, favors more transparency if the Legislature can agree on how to do it.
He questioned whether the new reporting requirement at the Ethics Commission gives the public a true picture of what happens during elections.
“My best sense is, it may be impossible to ensure people actually know who’s paying for a campaign,” Smith said. “We may have given citizens a false impression that they know who is spending money.”
Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, an organization that monitors campaign spending in Texas, opposes legalizing corporate donations to campaigns.
He argued that corporate donations would skew a campaign finance system already dominated by wealthy individuals.
State lawmakers may be tempted to avoid the issue altogether.
To begin with, the surge in outside spending in federal elections was driven in large part because federal election law limits donations to candidates. Those limits on individuals and political action committees motivated much of the outside spending. Other than some judicial campaigns, Texas has no limits on campaign donations.
“When you can give the governor $500,000 out of your pocket, why create a front group?” McDonald asked.
Second, changing the campaign finance law is controversial.
Smith, who has written legislation for more disclosure of political spending in the past, said there is always a backlash against more transparency.
“There are many special interests that don’t want to disclose,” he said.
Austin political consultant Bill Miller said there’s little momentum for major changes in the Texas campaign finance system.
“Outside of some isolated do-gooder groups, I don’t see anyone advocating for change,” he said. “The system works quite well for people who are incumbents.”
Those last three quotes, from McDonald, Smith, and Miller, sum it up nicely. And despite the example cited in the story of the Texas Association of Business and the scars it now bears from trying to act like a PAC while maintaining nonprofit status, the fact is that you can do an awful lot as a nonprofit. We remember TAB’s experience because it’s so unusual, but the truth is that if Bill Hammond had kept his pie hole shut after the 2002 election, instead of bragging to the nearest reporter about “blowing the doors off”, it’s likely nothing would have happened to them. Finally, there’s not really all that much holding back corporations from donating to PACs as they see fit. How often does doing so cause either the donor or its recipients all that much grief? There’s just not enough attention that gets paid to it, so the risks are pretty small.
On a related note, Citizens United did not affect Tom DeLay and his felony conviction, as the ruling did not address the Texas under which DeLay got zapped. However, it may come up in a future appeal, which Team DeLay is clearly counting on. It’d be nice if Congress pre-empted that by passing legislation to address the shortfalls that SCOTUS identified in the CU ruling, but I don’t see that happening with the current crop in DC.