Sunday, July 16, 2006


The watchdog group Texans for Public Justice (TPJ) released a report recently in which they graded Texas's state representatives and senators on their compliance with Chapter 254 of the Texas Election Code.  This chapter requires the reporting of big donors' occupations and employers.  "Big donors" are identified as those who donate greater than $500 in the aggregate during a single reporting period.  TPJ graded the legislators as follows:
     - adequate disclosure of both occupation and employer = full credit
     - adequate disclosure of either occupation or employer but not both = half credit
     - inadequate disclosure of both occupation and employer = no credit.

The importance of disclosure requirements for campaign finance lies in the economics of politics.  Money is always traded for something of value, at least of value to the person trading the money.  Usually, this occurs in the context of a purchase (e.g., food, cars, lands, etc.).  Occasionally, as with the wealthy, someone trades money for influence or recognition (e.g., donating to build a library).  In the context of campaign finance, what is the trader receiving in return for his/her donation?  The fear is that the donor is buying influence.  Since not everybody can donate to campaigns, an unfair advantage is given to those with enough money that they can donate to campaigns.  Thence comes 2003's HB 1606.

For those of you who are wondering how your legislators did, check this report out.  Waco's legislators did as follows:
     - Kip Averitt (Sen.) - B - 83.0 on value of donations and 77.8 on number of donations.
     - Jim Dunnam (H.R. 57th) - C - 77.8 on value and 76.1 on number.
     - Charles "Doc" Anderson (H.R. 56th) - F - 31.8 on value and 28.8 on number.
Let me tell you what this means.  Doc Anderson received $85,948 in statutorily defined big donations in 66 parts.  Of these donations, the Good Doc adequately disclosed the occupation and employer of only 28.8 percent of these donors, who gave 31.8 percent of the funds.  In straight numbers, 19 of his donors are virtually unknown except by name.  Here's a copy of his most recent report.  You can find Kip Averitt's here and Jim Dunnam's here.

When you hold public office and especially in your role as a public office holder, your privacy is significantly reduced.  It's time for the Lege to stop paying lip service to public accountability and accomplish real public accountability.  Kip and Jim--you have done well, but you can do better.  Doc--this is unacceptable; let us know who's giving you money so we can know about what (might) influence you while in Austin.

Democracy only works when we have real choices, and real choices are based on real information.

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