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Texas House Democrats United on Ethics Reform Bill

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

"Squeaky clean ethics" should be a priority for the state of Texas, said Rep. Jim Dunnam (D-Waco) today as he was joined by fellow Democrats in the House to announce their unanimous support for ethics reform outlined in HB 1348. The bill would prevent the use of corporate money to fund Texas election campaigns. Dunnam said the citizens of Texas should not have to worry about campaign donations and how those donations might affect legislation.

Dunnam decried the infusion of corporate money into politics that results in last-minute influence in elections when it is too late to do anything about it.

"If this had happened in 2001," said Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Alpine), "Tom DeLay might have thought twice before using illegal corporate money to win House seats for candidates who would vote for redistricting scheme that violated the voting rights of millions of Texans."

Gallego said the bill seeks to "restore integrity in state government." He said every Texan wants to believe in the integrity of the state's government, and thus government must do something about "these "challenges and scandals" relative to political campaigns by preventing corporate contributions and eliminating "shady, last minute attack ads."

What Gallego described what he called a "sleazy, last-minute attack ad" against Republican House member Tommy Merritt in Merritt's recent bid for State Senate and played an audio tape of the ad. He said the attack ad was clearly designed to influence the election. That is allowed under current law, said Gallego, but the new provisions of HB 1348 will close that loophole.

"Candidates shouldn't have to be the victim of outside groups that swoop in at the last minute," said Gallego.

Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), praised his predecessor, former State Rep. Steve Wolens who carried ethics legislation during a previous legislative session and said he "is very proud of carrying on Steve Wolens' legacy" by being a joint author of HB 1348. Anchia said the Democrats who have signed onto the bill represent an "entire delegation locked solid" on the issue.

Anchia said the bill will have a "profound" effect on elections and shine the light on people who "publish and disseminate" these attack ads. He said it also will create "transparency in the marketplace" so voters can decide whether or not to believe these ads. Saying the average consumer has no ability to discern who the groups are that place the ads or who they represent, Anchia said the people who place the ads use names that appeal to average citizens "and they use these names because they stand behind them as cowards and refuse to disclose who they are." That, he said, cheats voters.

Saying he ran for office on a platform of accountability, Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) said consultants told him people don't care about political accountability. He disagrees, saying it "resonates with every voter" and is "absolutely the threshold issue for better government."

Strama said the bill touted today is a modest effort, but a "good first step" toward continued ethics reform.

Rep. Craig Eiland (D-Galveston) said the bill is set for a subcommittee meeting Thursday. He said 76 votes are needed to pass the bill on the House floor and it already has 93 co-sponsors. "We deserve to get this bill moving and to get it to the floor," he said, noting it impacts Democrats, Republicans and Independents. "It tries to get us back to where we all thought we were three to four years ago, to using corporate funds in Texas for limited reasons." Eiland said there is plenty of money in Texas politics. "We don't need corporate money, too."