A state lawmaker wants to shine a light on how Texas spends millions of taxpayer dollars to educate the public about its controversial voter ID law.
Democratic Rep. Justin Rodriguez is proposing legislation that for the first time in Texas calls for transparency of spending for voter education campaigns by requiring the Texas Secretary of State’s office to produce data showing results after each general election.
The state’s chief elections office has contracted with public relations giant Burson-Marsteller to produce voter ID publicity efforts, but has refused to disclose where it placed television and radio spots as part of a $2.5 million campaign, nor reveal the names of roughly 1,800 community groups that partnered with the state for the 2016 elections.
Rodriguez, a Democrat from San Antonio and member of the House budget writing committee, says Texas officials shouldn’t be allowed to hide information about an important public education campaign_especially given widespread confusion over changes to the Texas law leading up to November’s election.
“These are public dollars,” said Rodriguez, who is planning to file his bill Wednesday. “I hate that this has kind of become an adversarial deal with the secretary of state’s office, but we want to make sure that money is being spent correctly.”
A spokesman for Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, appointed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, did not return a request for comment but the office has previously said the materials were not released because of an ongoing voter ID lawsuit.
That’s not exactly true. I quote from David Saleh Rauf’s November 4, 2016 story in the Houston Chronicle:
Texas’ main argument to withhold the information boils down to this: Burson-Marsteller drew up the plans and provided them to the state under contract as “proprietary” information.
A federal judge in August sealed records related to ad buy markets and community groups targeted to receive “digital tool kits” with updated voter ID information. The secretary of state’s office has since used the court seal as one of its reasons to deny media inquiries for the information.
Along with documents related to the current outreach program, the secretary of state’s office has refused to disclose information related to ad buys and market placement for a voter education campaign in 2014, the first statewide election cycle in which the voter ID law was used. The agency also will not release the name of a state lawmaker it wrote a letter addressing details of the 2014 education effort.
As I’ve said before, I think the “proprietary information” argument is a load of hooey. Rep. Rodriguez’s bill is HB3285. I don’t expect it to pass, but it was absolutely correct to file it.