Texas Legislature Opens & A Billonaire Gets Busted (Sort Of)

Jan 4, 2013

Texas Matters: It's finally here! The 83rd Texas Legislature will be sworn in and start on Tuesday, Jan. 8. Political Action Committees, or Super PACs as they came to be so heroically known in last year's election, enjoyed fairly easy regulations on both organization and donations. However, there are rules and stiff penalties if you break them; one Texas billionaire was caught and fined a shocking $6,450!

Whistle while you work...

The Texas house and senate are given 140 calendar days to come up with a balanced state budget and fix the problems that have troubled Texas for the last two years; school funding, campaign finance, and redistricting just to name a few.

The last session was testy; with a Republican super majority in the House, conservative law making was the order of the day, but this time is different. Republicans are still in control but no longer hold a super majority, which means they will have to give a little more consideration to Democrats on the floor.

There are some people, like the Quorum Report's Harvey Kronberg, who are hopeful that this session will distinguish itself as one dedicated to problem solving.

"The most significant change [this session] is that the anger has largely evaporated. We elected a freshman class in the Texas house last cycle that came in angry, and not traditional political personalities. They were not connected with their local schools, hospitals, nursing homes in the way that most people elected to the legislature are and they were perfectly happy to make these draconian cuts. The election that just took place -- while there's more than three dozen Republican freshman in the Texas house and there will be 95 out of 150 -- these folks have a significant number who have been on school boards, who have been businessmen in their communities, and while they are very conservative they are much less ideological. I think that it's going to be more about problem solving than just gratuitous cutting, which is what the threshold was last time."

The are a lot fewer bills pre-filed for this legislative session than the last one, and Kronberg said that is partly to do with freshmen legislators who won on the promise of smaller government and so are coming into the office without a big legislative agenda.

Too big for their britches?

Ethics reform is always an item that political watchdogs put on their wish list for an upcoming legislative session. To call Texas campaign finance laws Swiss cheese would be kind. But sometimes there are big campaign donors who get so careless they can even trip over Swiss cheese.

Such is the case this week to mega political donor Harold Simmons of Dallas. The Texas Ethics Commission ruled that the billionaire broke the law in setting up a sham political action committee – and he was fined a whopping $6,450 dollars (pennies for a billionaire).

Texans for Public Justice is a political watchdog group and discovered the violation and filed the complaint. Craig McDonald is the director of Texans for Public Justice.

"We had filed a complaint against the Waste Control PAC;Waste Control is owned by Harold Simmons of course. Another political action committee formed last year, and we discovered that it had given out about $65,000 in campaign contributions yet it had not met the standard of law to create a political action committee. When we looked into it, we saw that the sole donor to the political committee was Harold Simmons himself, who had given the PAC just over $100,000 , and under Texas law that's illegal; if you have a PAC you have to have at least 10 donors. The reason for that, Dave, is that you can't allow one single donor to try to hide his identity or obfuscate his identity behind a sweet sounding PAC. This PAC was called Texas Solutions, no one would ever know it was a PAC created by waste control specialists which operates a hazard waste dump in West Texas and has been trying for years to get permits to expand that dump to include nuclear waste of all sorts. It now has the permits to include nuclear waste."

  • Find out more from Texans for Public Justice at: www.tpj.org