Democratic lawmakers and the watchdog group Public Citizen gathered in Austin on Tuesday to push for limits on state-level campaign contributions and modernize the Texas Ethics Commission.
It’s a renewed push to curb the influence of dark money on Texas politics following the release of a CNN special report that highlighted how a small group of billionaires were bankrolling conservative politics in the state.
“These issues should not be partisan, we should all be able to come together to build a stronger healthier democracy for all Texans,” said Rep. Erin Zwiener of Driftwood.
Zwiener filed two bills last sesion to cap contribution in the state, which unlike federal campaigns, have no limit. Both bills never made it out of committee.
Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen Texas, said campaign ethic reforms are necessary to restore confidence in democracy in the Lone Star State.
“Franky, we have a system right now that allows democracy to be auctioned off to the highest bidder,” Shelley said, explaining that Texas has no individual contribution limits and no legislation to address the revolving door between lawmaking and lobbying.
At the federal level, Shelley said Public Citizen was calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
“We do not believe corporations are people and we do not believe that money is speech,” Shelley said.
Citing the failure of the Texas Ethics Commission to keep up with Beto O’Rourke’s campaign finance report filings, Austin area Rep. Donna Howard said modernizing the agency is important for accountability.
“We need a system that makes campaign finance and ethics information easily available to everyday Texans,” Howard said.
“It’s a disturbing reality that corruption and rampant conflicts of interest are present at nearly every level of state government, but as legislators we are committed to enacting bolder reforms that meanigly empower the ethics commission to proactively initiate investigations of potential wrongdoing,” Howard said.
Rep. Rhetta Bowers of Garland said the current political atmosphere is more responsive to dark money than the public’s welfare.
“When the sources of election spending remain undisclosed, it is hard to prevent a handful of extremely wealthy individuals from manipulating our elections, or identify election spending that’s part of a corrupt pay-to-play system,” Bowers said.
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org