Texas Gets Poor Marks on Campaign Finance
The Texas primary season finally comes to an end tomorrow with runoff elections in a handful of races. And as always – money played a large role in deciding the winners. Money that flows through a system that get low marks from the State Integrity Investigation.
It looked at several aspects of state government across the country, giving each a grade on how well state law prevents corruption. It gave Texas a D minus overall on political financing. With it’s lowest ranking coming when the study looked at whether or not state laws were effective at regulating political financing.
The short answer there is “no,” because Texas has no limits on how much money you can give to a candidate.
“Our wild west culture of unlimited campaign money has been here long before Citizens United,” said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a follow-the-money political watchdog group.
Citizens United refers to the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations to give unlimited amounts of campaign money. McDonald says Texas may be best suited to absorb the changes brought by the ruling, since unlimited donations have been standard in Texas.
The State Integrity Investigation does give Texas good grades on a couple of finance categories. If you want to find out who’s giving how much to which candidate, the state does have a good system for accessing records. Although McDonald says the rise of non-profit organizations launching their own political campaigns has concealed some donors. Because non-profits don’t have to disclose who is giving them money.
“One thing we do need is better disclosure. Now that we have these non-profits coming in and hiding their donors and spending pretty big amounts of money, the public at least should be able to see who the donors are. And right now you can’t do that,” McDonald said.
So how do unlimited donations affect a race? Well, the candidate with the most money tends to win the race. But with the rise of the Tea Party, some candidates have bucked that narrative. Republican State Senate candidate Donna Campbell was a distant 3rd in the money race before the May primary. She still came in 2nd and forced a runoff with district 25 incumbent Jeff Wentworth. That’s where unlimited donations made a difference.
“Look at the numbers from the pre-primary numbers of how much money she had raise – and she had raised about $87,000,” Texas Tribune Data reporter Ryan Murphy said, “but after the primary she picked up $444,000. That’s a lot more money in a much more constrained amount of time.”
Much of that money coming from individual donations ranging from $10,000 to $100,000. Most of those donors trace back to the tort reform advocacy group Texans for Lawsuit Reform. That group had sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into another candidate in the primary. But their candidate didn’t make the runoff.
“Once it became apparent she stood a chance in this race, they were willing to throw the full amount of their weight behind her,” Murphy said.
And that’s just one example of races across the state that can quickly be affected by groups with ideology to push and money to burn.