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Bipartisan Bill Aimed at Campaign Finance Reform

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

Representatives of more than 50 organizations seeking campaign finance reform in Texas have pledged their support for HB 1348, a bi-partisan bill filed today by Reps. Craig Eiland (D-Galveston) and Todd Smith (R-Bedford) that is aimed at keeping corporate and union money out of Texas elections.

At a press conference today, Eiland explained that the bill will prohibit the use of corporate and union funds for political campaigns in Texas. "This bill will bring us in line with a lot of federal laws and modernize our 100-year-old prohibition for corporate and union money in campaigns," said Eiland, noting that 26 other states already have similar prohibitions.

"People vote, corporations don't," said the Galveston Democrat in explaining why the legislation is necessary. "Shareholders and union members need to know the money they've invested in a corporation or paid their dues to goes not for someone's political purposes, but for that union or corporation's best interests."

As the Travis County District Attorney continues an investigation into alleged irregularities regarding campaign finance in the Texas Legislature and some indictments already have been returned, Eiland said this legislation was not filed to impact or affect "any of the side issues going on in Travis County or anywhere else."

Eiland said the legislation will help protect candidates from attack ads in the last 60 days of a campaign - ads that are paid for "and you don't know where it's coming from."

Eiland said "issue ads" paid for with corporate money will not be affected by the legislation. He offered an example of how during the recent telecommunications "wars," large companies and corporations such as Southwestern Bell and AT&T bought ads with corporate money in support of advocating for or against a bill. "This bill doesn't touch that," he said. "That's fine. It doesn't prohibit it in any form or fashion."

On the other side of the rotunda, the bill will be carried by Sens. Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen) and Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock). Eiland said that shows there is bipartisan support for the bill in both chambers, noting, "That's what it's going to take to get this bill passed."

Co-author Smith said the issue is "not a Republican or Democrat issue," but rather a "people issue" that will "ensure our political system responds to the public and has their faith." He said the bill is aimed at maintaining full disclosure of election money and maintaining the prohibition on the use of corporate and union money.

Smith said the public is "disgusted and turned off" by attack ads, and cited a special election in 2004 in which Rep. Tommy Merritt (R-Longview) had $60,000 in attack ads run against him in his campaign, and the ads were paid for with undisclosed corporate funds. He said that is wrong and this legislation will be "in the best interest of all Texans."

The legislation "ensures fair and open elections" in Texas, said Hinojosa, while it strengthens the prohibition of "under-the-table special interest money" in campaigns. He said the bill will "go a long way to ensure fair, honest elections" and one in which "no one gets blindsided" by attack ads.

Eiland said the bill also protects corporate workers and union members from being "pounded for contributions" to political action committees (PACs). He said the bill will protect working people from being "unduly harassed" to donate to PACs.

Among the groups in support of the legislation is the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). The organization's Texas State President, Gus Cardenas, said AARP supports the bill because it will "protect the integrity of our democratic process and governmental institutions."

He said not only will the bill promote government integrity, but it will also "ensure that every Texan has a voice in their government" while restoring the Texas tradition of "keeping corporate and union money out of our elections."

Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) said the bill will "restore accountability of government to the voters," adding that money has become far too influential in the political process.