Ethics legislation is in danger as lawmakers play out the last days of their current session in Austin, but at least it’s over a principle that’s worth the fight.
The House gave its final approval Wednesday to Senate Bill 19, the primary vehicle for an ethics overhaul Gov. Greg Abbott labeled among his highest priorities.
Abbott praised the bill after it passed the Senate 31-0 on April 28. It called for increased financial disclosures, blocked lawmakers from immediately becoming lobbyists after leaving the Legislature, even called for drug testing of elected officials.
But House leaders immediately said it didn’t go far enough, and the bill approved by that chamber 102-44 on Wednesday showed what they meant.
The most important new provision requires that sources of “dark money,” anonymous contributions to politically active nonprofit organizations, be disclosed.
State Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, the original author of SB 19, doesn’t like the dark money provision one bit. He said it would “restrict the ability of individuals to engage in the political or legislative process” through anonymous donations.
Influential organizations like Empower Texans and Texas Right to Life also raised strong objections.
Texas Right to Life said it “marks an attempt to intimidate and silence advocacy organizations that communicate with citizen voters.”
But the author of the provision, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, quoted President Ronald Reagan in saying that free speech requires “full disclosure of all campaign contributions, including in-kind contributions, and expenditures on behalf of any electoral activities.”
Political campaigns and political debate are the very definition of the public arena. All should participate, but they should also be willing to stand behind what they do and say. Secret big-money financing is the opposite of that.
The Senate has requested a conference committee on SB19. House and Senate rules say Sunday is the last day to accept conference committee reports. The session ends Monday.