Tom Craddick, the former Speaker of the Texas House and currently a Republican incumbent Texas House Member, has given money to his favorite incumbent Democratic Representatives. So, what’s the problem? Craddick laundered the money through a PAC instead of a direct contribution. In response, Texans for Public Justice, a political advocacy group, has filed a formal complaint to the Texas Ethics Commission, claiming this is illegal.
Here’s what happened: Craddick gave $250,000 to the Texas Jobs & Opportunity Build A Secure Future PAC (Jobs PAC) on January 10, 2008, along with instructions to distribute the money to incumbent Democratic Representatives; Kevin Bailey, Dawnna Dukes, Kino Flores, and Aaron Pena. Each representative was offered $50,000. All the Representatives, except Dukes who was wary of already existing criticism about ties to Craddick from her opponent, accepted the money.
According to Texas Campaign Finance laws (Texas Election Code Chapter 253.001), contributing money through any intermediary organization without disclosing its original source is illegal. However, it probably happens more than voters will ever know, as it does not leave a paper trail back to the original contributor.
Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDonald says: “Tom Craddick wanted to move tens of thousands of dollars to his favorite Democrats without letting voters know. Hiding the true source of campaign funds is illegal. Craddick could have contributed the money directly and openly. Instead, he used Texas Jobs to launder his money and keep Texans in dark.” This issue, therefore, deals with more than disregarding Campaign Finance Laws; this is behavior that also leads to voter ignorance.
And here comes the rub with most campaign finance problems: it’s not necessarily the recipients who are at fault here. Craddick, in an attempt at political payback, gave money to those who had voted for him as Speaker. As in most cases with campaign finance laws, we walk a very fine line between bribery, kickbacks, etc and legitimate donations. The public can’t know what was in the mind and heart of Rep Craddick, much less those of Bailey, Pena, and Flores (who, we should note, none of whom voted for Craddick’s re-election for Speaker in 2009)– BUT only by instituting a system of public financing can we be certain that our candidates are running clean and are only representing the wishes of their constituents. I think it would be a great step forward for public confidence in elections and also rid our elected officials of the task of fundraising, something not one elected official I know claims to like. Win-Win-Win.