Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Council approves proposed finance law changes

That was easy.

BagOfMoney

City Council approved changes to Houston’s campaign finance law Wednesday with no discussion, effectively doubling contribution limits per general election cycle and boosting the amount many candidates can reimburse themselves for personal loans.

The revisions, which go into effect Friday, are meant to clarify rules left unclear after the court struck down the city’s fundraising blackout last year and voters extended terms to four years from two years.

Rather than collecting a maximum of $5,000 from individuals and $10,000 from political action committees per two-year election cycle, candidates will be allowed to raise that much during the first two years of their term, and then do so again during the second two years. The contribution cycle would reset if the candidate were forced into a runoff.

The new rules also permit council and controller candidates to repay themselves tens of thousands of dollars more for personal loans they make to their campaigns.

Mayor Sylvester Turner reiterated during a news conference Wednesday that the changes are intended to reconcile the old two-year fundraising cycle with the current four-year cycle, though some viewed the modifications as a boon to incumbents and wealthy candidates.

“That was just an attempt to try to just mirror what has been the case and simply just adapt it to a four-year term,” Turner said.

See here for the background. This must not have been too controversial, because no one even tagged it. CMs Christie and Edwards were the only No votes. The Chron editorial board does not approve.

Contribution limits are supposed to serve as a check on corruption, but good government advocates aren’t the only people who support them. One of the odd little secrets of politics is that a lot of campaign donors actually like these rules. The disgraceful truth is that writing fundraising checks to elected officials is widely considered an unavoidable cost of doing business with government, so quite a few lobbyists will privately tell you they wish contribution limits were even lower.

Last year, in the same election that put Sylvester Turner in the mayor’s office, Houstonians voted to change the city’s term limits. Instead of holding municipal elections every two years and limiting elected officials to a maximum of three terms in office, voters opted for holding elections every four years and a maximum of two terms.

If you cast a ballot in that term-limits referendum, you might have reasonably assumed the new, longer terms also meant city politicians could drag the sack for campaign cash only once every four years. But if that’s what you thought, dear voter, you’ve been bamboozled.

In a cynical act of self-preservation, Houston’s mayor and City Council Wednesday adopted new campaign finance rules that essentially double the maximum contributions they can collect from each individual donor and political action committee before any election. Even though voters decided to let them stay in office four years between elections, our city’s elected leadership bestowed upon themselves the right to squeeze donors for campaign checks every two years.

I just don’t feel that strongly about it, mostly because I don’t think the amounts involved will have any effect on the outcome of elections. I agree that the way this ordinance was written it gives an advantage to incumbents. Simply doubling the amount that could be raised in a four-year period rather than allowing the same amount to be raised twice would have made it easier for challengers to keep up. I wonder if the donor class, who I agree would rather not have to write more checks if they can avoid it, will necessarily play along. As I noted before, it was already the case that very few PACs made the maximum $10K donation that had been allowed to candidates. Just because they can give more in our now-longer election cycle doesn’t mean that they will. As always, we’ll have to keep an eye on the finance reports to see what effect there is from this.

Related Posts:

Comments are closed.