Perry vetoes ‘dark money’ campaign transparency bill

Posted Saturday, May. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A bill designed to shed light on contributions to politically active non-profits was vetoed Saturday by Gov. Rick Perry, who said the measure would have had a "chilling effect" on participation in the democratic process.

“While regulation is necessary in the administration of Texas political finance laws,” Perry said in his veto message, "no regulation is tolerable that puts anyone's participation at risk or that can be used by any government, organization or individual to intimidate those who choose to participate in our process through financial means. "

Perry announced his decision on the eve of the 83rd Legislature's adjournment on Monday. Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, the House sponsor of Senate Bill 346, said he had "thought there was a good chance" Perry would kill the bill.

“This is a sad day for integrity and transparency in Texas,” Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who authored the bill, said in a written statement.

“Governor Perry's veto of SB346 legalizes money laundering in Texas elections.”

The concept of Senate Bill 346 was also included in legislation to extend the Texas Ethics Commission, but Geren said that provision was stripped from the bill in a conference committee, meaning the issue is dead for the 2013 session.

“I haven't talked to the governor. I don't know the reason that he vetoed it,” Geren said. “Hopefully sometime tomorrow I'll have an explanation as to why he vetoed it.”

The bill applied primarily to nonprofits that are classified as social welfare organizations under 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code, which don’t qualify as a political action committee and aren’t required to report financial donors.

The legislation would have required those organizations with political expenditures of more than $25,000 to report contributions of $1,000 or more.

The groups have become a growing force in politics at both the state and national level as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which has enabled them to make political contributions without reporting their contributors, as PACs are required to do.

“At a time when our federal government is assaulting the rights of Americans by using the tools of government to squelch dissent it is unconscionable to expose more Texans to the risk of such harassment, regardless of political, organizational or party affiliation,” Perry said in announcing his veto.

“Freedom of association and freedom of speech are two of our most important rights enshrined in the Constitution,” the governor said. “My fear is that SB 346 would have a chilling effect on both of those rights in our democratic political process.”

Michael Quinn Sullivan, who heads politically influential conservative organizations that would likely fall under the bill’s requirements, has attacked the measure though social media, comparing the Senate-passed bill to the reported targeting of Tea Party groups by the IRS.

Sullivan, who heads Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and Empower Texans, is a Perry supporter and a critic of House Speaker Joe Straus, whom he has accused of leading the House away from conservative principles. He has also helped Tea Party candidates oust Republican incumbents in the past two elections.

Geren said that just two groups from differing sides of the political spectrum contributed nearly $600,000 to Texas candidates last year.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram’s Austin bureau chief, 512-739-4471

Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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