Archive for the ‘Campaign Finance’ Category

Bastrop Texas wildfires

Wildfires rage over Labor Day near Bastrop, TX, southeast of Austin

Our hearts, prayers and thoughts go out to the people currently evacuated and who have lost their homes this holiday weekend. I, myself, having gone through losing a home to fire I send my best to all of you affected, and have already contacting folks via our church to find out how we can help. I’ll post links as soon as I can get them to give directly to disaster relief. UPDATE: KVUE has a great list they are updating with where to donate. Please give what you can.

This puts into focus several things that have been ruminating in my head all weekend, and it all comes back to this one question– Why does Rice play Texas?  This weekend, two of our nation’s best universities met on the football field. And while both Rice and University of Texas can duke it out on relatively equal footing on the basis of academics, Rice is. . . shall we say, not the athletic powerhouse that Texas is. So, why does Rice always begin its football season with a drubbing of 34-9 (hey, tip of the hat for getting 9 points on the scoreboard– I guarantee there will be teas that do less this year), with the Owls now having lost 41 games out of the last 42 meetings to the Longhorns? And here the answer lies with the other goings-on of this long weekend.

It started with a bang and whimper as our Caver-in-Chief, President Obama, announced he would overrule both the Supreme Court in Whitman v American Trucking Associations and the EPA in pulling back on the agency’s interstate smog rule that has been in the works since the Bush Administration. As Prof of Law Lisa Heinzerling points out in an excellent post over at Grist called Ozone Madness, this decision is wrong based on the law, the science, the economics, and the transparency.

While the President is trying to, I’d assume, take what he sees as the high ground and compromise with those people who claim that these regulations kill jobs, the opposite is, in fact, true. These National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS, are set by the Clean Air Act and, defined by the Supreme Court, are to be based on the best available science about what levels of pollutants are healthy for human beings (people like you and me) to breathe. Tea partiers and some of their corporate paymasters in the fossil fuel industry have been caterwauling that these rules will be “too expensive” to implement, and therefore shut down a lot of old, dirty power plants.

coal smokestacks polluteUmmmm.. . . yes, please? Couldn’t we, nay, shouldn’t we shut them down? Our best available science tells us these pollution sources are making us sick. We need these life-saving regulations to help all of the sick children, the elderly, and just the plain folks who  suffer from asthma and other respiratory disease. Count up the missed school days, the missed work days, the premature deaths– count how they hobble our economy. How can children compete in a global economy if they are missing days from school sick because they can’t breathe? How much work is done not on time? How much lost productivity have we hamstrung our economic engine with to cater to people who don’t know how to compete in a modern energy economy against cleaner forms of production? Because the new EPA rules won’t shut down all power plants, only those who can’t compete, who can’t run cleanly. And since there is also good evidence to show that these sorts of life-enhancing regulations actually help, not hurt,  the economy. It also rebuts the White House’s own stated position that they posted just one. day. earlier. that clean air helps the economy, preventing in this year alone:

  • 160,000 premature deaths;
  • More than 80,000 emergency room visits;
  • Millions of cases of respiratory problems;
  • Millions of lost workdays, increasing productivity;
  • Millions of lost school days due to respiratory illness and other diseases caused or exacerbated by air pollution.

So aside from the doublespeak and the just plain bad policy, it looked like the Obama Administration is also taking early steps to signal that they will approve the Keystone XL pipeline to bring the world’s dirtiest and most carbon-intensive source of oil on the planet to Texas Gulf Coast refineries, despite weeks of protests involving thousands of people and hundreds of arrests.

The impact on the climate if this is approved? Well, according to Jim Hanson, one of our top climate scientists, he called it “essentially game over.” Or, as Bill Paxton in Aliens put it:  (WARNING: NSFW for swearsies, including the dreaded f-dash-dash-dash word)


Ok, well, all kidding aside because this is deathly serious, as in the fate of the planet’s climate, THIS is what Jim Hanson told climate protesters outside the White House just before he was arrested for his part in the protest.


Bill McKibben, environmental activist and one of the ringleaders of the several weeks long protest event, said this on Friday about how this is not the end of the protests, it’s only the beginning:


These are serious stakes. “Game Over” stakes. What does that mean? Well, for climate, if you’ve liked the record-breaking heat this year in Texas, you’re in luck, as this could easily become the new normal with climate change. And with the heat, we’ve got the huge economic impacts of the drought. For farmers and ranchers, the Dallas Morning News is reporting a 5 billion dollar loss. Thats Billion with a B, folks.

So next time someone starts talking about how it’s “too expensive” to deal with climate change, do what the Violent Femmes say to do and “Add it Up.” (warning:song lyrics also NSFW because of those darn swearsies)  Loss from hurricanes like Irene, loss from this summer’s floods and tornadoes in Joplin, loss from drought, loss from wildfires, loss to the economy from dirty air (since hotter temperatures mean worse smog), and tell me that just continuing to do nothing and just putting more carbon into the atmosphere is potentially the most expensive thing we can do.

JFK speaking at Rice University

So, what does this have to do with Rice vs Texas? Well, what we have here is political expediency and taking the easy path instead of fighting for what is right. Regulations, regardless of their impact on a multinational corporation’s bottom line, save lives, and improve lives. This is what Ralph Nader fought for when he wrote Unsafe at Any Speed. Corporate whining and their record-breaking profits are not more important than people, and people’s’ rights to breathe clean air, or live in a stable climate. I, for one, am not willing to give up on Central Texas, and let this become the new normal for climate. When I first came to Austin, my literal first impression of the area was “I now understand why people were willing to die at The Alamo to protect this land.”

Decades ago, another President came to Texas to challenge a nation to go to the moon before the end of the decade, and asked an assembled crowd at Rice University the magic question.

“Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.” … But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

President Kennedy answered his own question:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

Climate change is the same challenge, which I previously hit on in another blog post where I also used this quote. It is certainly one we must be willing to accept, unwilling to postpone, and which we intend to win.


But, most importantly, he notes that “But this city of Houston, this state of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward.”

Let me take liberty with JFK’s speech where he talks about the need to build a space industry and replace it with a clean energy economy. “If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The [creation of a clean energy economy] will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for [clean energy].  Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolution, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of [energy]. We mean to be a part of it—we mean to lead it.

Our economic torpor, our environmental problems, and yes, our hurricanes and droughts and wildfires, are ALL things we can solve if we are willing to take this same leadership role. Surely there will be pollution in the future, there will be recessions, there will be storms and droughts and fires– but they will NOT be supercharged by an ever-increasing blanket of carbon making our planet warmer and warmer. We must stop doing the same things over and over, relying on fossil fuels, and expecting different results. We must put our courage to the sticking place, and say that we will not allow the voices of a few, economically powerful and well-connected industries to wreak untold havoc on us and our neighborhoods.

You’ll notice, in JFK’s speech, he talks about the costs that a trip to the moon will require. He advocates not spending money recklessly, but in spending a large amount of money to win this challenge.

To be sure, all this costs us all a good deal of money. This year’s space budget is three times what it was in January 1961, and it is greater than the space budget of the previous eight years combined. That budget now stands at 5 billion 400 million dollars a year—a staggering sum, though somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year. Space expenditures will soon rise some more, from 40 cents per person per week to more than 50 cents a week for every man, woman and child in the United States, for we have given this program a high national priority—even though I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us. But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240 thousand miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25 thousand miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun—almost as hot as it is here today—and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out—then we must be bold

However, I think we’re going to do it, and I think that we must pay what needs to be paid. I don’t think we ought to waste any money, but I think we ought to do the job.”

President Obama will be giving a speech on jobs later this week. In it, I’d love to hear even a smidgen of the boldness and realism of Kennedy. I’d love for him to recant his statement on the EPA smog rule, and say that he will stop the Keystone XL pipeline, as it will only increase our dependence on oil when we need to be quitting it. But I doubt it.

But, it could be worse. We could be realistically thinking about electing as President of the United States someone who believes climate change is a hoax, that climate scientists are in it for the money, and the best way to run a state is to slash the budget of the Forest Service, the agency responsible for fighting fires in Texas, by $34 million– almost one-third of its budget– on the eve of one of the most destructive fire seasons ever. It is worth noting that during the sunset hearings on the Texas Forest Service I testified as to the need of the Forest Service to engage in extra forecasting as to what a climate-change-fueled fire season would look like and be prepared to fight it, so this is a little bit of a personal issue for me.

Apologies for the political birdwalk and the sniping at the two likely major-party candidates for the Presidency. What is clear is what JFK was talking about: we must do things like fight climate change not because they are easy, but because they are hard, and because they are a challenge we are willing to accept and unwilling to postpone. It is a fight we must win, it is a fight for our very existence as we know it here in Texas.

This Saturday my alma mater will be coming to Austin to play Texas, and as my BYU Cougars sit as 4.5 point underdogs against the Longhorns, they and we must remember that this is why Rice plays Texas. This is why BYU plays Texas. To challenge ourselves, and organize our best efforts to make us better. That is why Rice plays Texas. And that is ultimately why we must get our head in the game on clean energy and quit our addictions to fossil fuels and their campaign contributions.


For updates on where exactly wildfires are raging in Texas, please visit http://ticc.tamu.edu/Response/FireActivity/

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Leave it to Texans for Public Justice to bring us another strange but true tale from the world of Texas lobbyists.

A well known Texas lobbyist was recently caught writing himself unauthorized checks out of a client’s political committee.  That in and of itself is not strange, wrong, but not strange.  The strange part is that a sane lobbyist would have chiseled every other client before targeting a trade association for loan sharks! Click here to read TPJ’s Lobby Watch with this story.

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It is looking like the 2012 election will be dominated by the Super PAC.  If you thought your voice counted for little before, check out this MSNBC story on the new powerhouse super PAC called “Make Us Great Again” which, while claiming it is independent, just launched a website filled with photos of Rick Perry and campaign bullet points about the governor’s record creating jobs and lowering taxes in Texas.  No mention about slashing public education funding or what types of jobs were created in the state.


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According to a new report by Texans for Public Justice (TPJ), a record 1,302 active Texas political action committees (PACs) spent $133 million in the two-year 2010 election cycle, a 12 percent increase from the 2008 cycle.  Over the past decade Texas PACs increased their spending nearly three-fold and the number of active PACs grew by 50%.

Check out TPJ’s latest in-depth analysis of PAC activity – Texas PACs: 2010 Cycle Spending – available at TPJ.ORG.

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Review Highlights of a Decade of Texans for Public Justice’s Perry-related Research


THEN (as TAMU Yell Leader)

Texas Governor Rick Perry is unknown to much of America.  Texans for Public Justice (TPJ) has followed this politician since he became governor in late 2000, publishing numerous reports on Perry’s politics and policies.  With talk of a Perry presidential campaign escalating, “The Rick Perry Primer” summarizes the highlights of a decade of TPJ’s Perry-related research.

“The Rick Perry Primer” is available at TPJ.ORG.

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Stephen Colbert and the FEC squared off today in Washington over the fake news anchor’s SuperPAC request. Colbert testified today in an FEC hearing in which he sought a media exemption so he can form his own Super political action committee. The Comedy Central host has been making fun of campaign finance laws for months and today was the moment of truth for the comedian. Colbert has brought attention to the controversial campaign finance laws and has been largely seen as showing how absurd the laws surrounding a SuperPAC can be.

Public Citizen’s Congress Watch (our colleagues in DC) sent a letter to the FEC urging them to deny Stephen Colbert’s request for a media exemption. Public Citizen’s own Craig Holman said that “This would carve out a gaping loophole in campaign finance laws, allowing any company involved in media to foot, in secret and without limit, the electioneering expenses of political committees. If the press exemption were to be so dangerously expanded by the FEC, the next request will be for media companies to directly finance unlimited candidate campaigns under the press exemption – an abuse that is already being advocated in some quarters.”  What does that mean?  Well, it means if Viacom resources can be used to produce ads for ColbertPAC, then Fox could possibly produce ads for their contributors, such as Karl Rove and his SuperPAC, CrossroadsGPS. It would be a terrible slippery slope and stretch our campaign finance laws to the breaking point.

The members of the FEC appeared to take notice of Public Citizen’s request, voting in favor of allowing Stephen Colbert to have a SuperPAC, but with the narrow media exemption we advocated. In a vote of 5-1, the FEC approved a modified version of the Colbert Advisory Opinion request that is fairly narrow and consistent with the current press exemption.

The FEC today has made a good decision in the minds of advocates for campaign finance reform. They have drawn a line in the sand between media companies and political action committees. They have also not been hypocritical in their decisions, and thus have allowed for a comedian to create a SuperPAC (much like the ones Karl Rove and Sarah Palin have created), who may as well be comedians because their campaign finance activities make us laugh because without laughing we’d cry. With the Supreme Court’s recent controversial ruling on public financing of elections, it’s nice to have some comic relief in the twisted world that is campaign finance.

Thanks to our friends at CREW who posted this video on their blog:

Colbert makes some good points here, but also does what we think is really necessary: by “kidding on the square“, he’s using humor to point out exactly how ridiculous our campaign finance laws are. Because when he starts running his ads, people will notice. And hopefully they’ll realize the real jokes are not Colbert, but the other superPACs out there.

Colbert put it best: “Some of you have cynically asked “Is this some kind of joke?” I, for one, don’t think participating in democracy is a joke… that wanting to know what the rules are is a joke. But I do have one federal election law joke.

Knock Knock

(who’s there)

Unlimited union and corporate campaign contributions.

(Unlimited union and corporate campaign contributions who?)

That’s the thing, I don’t think I should have to tell you.”

The joke is serious. Colbert is right. The Supreme Court with Citizens United have created the most absurd unintended consequences ever. We need real campaign finance reform, but we hope Colbert’s laughs will bring others to the cause.

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Tim Pawlenty

Mit Romney

With the 2012 presidential race heating up, candidates have begun to boast about their high-profile donors. In particular, Texas millionaire Bob Perry has been a significant contributor to both Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney’s campaigns.  It is not uncommon for big donors to give to multiple campaigns, explains Alexander Burns in his Politico article, but Burns goes on to say “the real test of loyalty here will be who –if any– Perry actually bundles contributions for.”  Bundling is when a large group of fundraisers get together to form their own PAC allowing individuals to funnel more money into an election.

Perry also gave to multiple candidates in the 2008 presidential election. He gave the maximum amount of $2,300 to both Romney and McCain in the Republican primary.  However, Perry is hardly alone in hedging his bets.

Michael Beckel’s OpenSecrets blog shows many donors give to multiple campaigns.  The most interesting discovery from Beckel’s report is that many people cross party lines even when they give a substantial amount to each candidate (talk about hedging your bets).  Perhaps the most surprising of the cross-overs are that two donors gave the maximum amount to Rep. Ron Paul and now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Beckel offers a quote from an anonymous Democratic campaign operative to explain the multiple donations. The operative said “donations like these are about access. At that level of contribution, you probably get to meet the candidate and have a conversation with them.”

Perry seems to be all about access and creating chances to be in the “winner’s circle” as Larry Sabato describes.  Perry has been a influential person not only in Texas politics but also national politics. He has donated millions of dollars to 527 groups or PACs,  such as Karl Rove’s PAC American Crossroads, Tom Delay’s TRMPAC and ARMPAC (both instrumental in Tom Delay’s criminal conviction) and the highly controversial group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.  It appears the 2012 election cycle will be no different for Perry who will continue to use his large amounts of money for access and influence.

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Although the taxi cab industry in Austin is not often considered a power player in politics, individuals, top executives and owners have spent thousands of dollars in this city council election cycle. In particular, the election for the Austin City Council Place 3 seat has seen substantial amounts of money flow into it from the taxi cab companies. The race is between incumbent Randi Shade and newcomer Kathie Tovo. With well over $210,000 raised by the candidates, the taxi companies have accounted for nearly $18,000 of that money.

The influx of money can be attributed to disagreements within the industry by management and cab drivers as described in the Austin American Statesman article by Ben Wear. In the article, General Manager of Austin Yellow Cab Edward Kargbo is quoted as saying that they donated to “council members who we have found to be open to sitting down and hearing both sides.” The main debate is over whether legacy permits should be issued by the city council. The permits would allow drivers with at least 5 years of experience to bypass the three major taxi companies in Austin. The taxi companies are worried that this would lead to a loss of control in the marketplace. In the Place 3 election, Tovo has stated she is in favor of legacy permits whereas Shade has said she is opposed to it.

The large proportion of money that the taxi industry has devoted to this campaign has some people worried like Electric Cab owner Chris Nielsen who has said that City Council members were influenced by donations by cab executives. From The Statesman:

Yellow Cab and Austin Cab were granted five-year franchises in May 2010 by the council. Both votes were unanimous, although Morrison and Riley were not present when the Austin Cab vote occurred. The taxi drivers association at the time argued that given its concerns over the taxi fees and other issues, the term of the franchises should have been much shorter than five years.

The council’s response to the drivers’ concerns was to pass a resolution ordering the city’s staff to develop recommendations on a variety of issues involving taxis. In September, city staffers gave the council a briefing that included some immediate recommendations and items for further study.

Those recommendations included putting into the city code regulations for “low-speed electric vehicles,” a suggestion that has complicated the taxi dynamic this election season.

That proposed ordinance, which was to come before the council on April 21 , would allow the sole Austin company running those golf cart-like vehicles to potentially compete directly with taxis for short trips downtown. The company, Electric Cab of Austin, currently operates only as a shuttle contractor for hotels, rather than as a taxi service.

Two days before it was to come up, however, Shade raised concerns at a council work session about authorizing a new business while study of the overall taxi industry was ongoing. The council decided to table that matter for three to six months.

Electric Cab owner Chris Nielsen , who had flirted earlier in the year with running against Shade, claimed that she and other council members were influenced by the donations they had received from the cab executives. No, Shade said.

“It’s not the city’s job to create a special niche for one guy’s business,” she said.

Nielsen, still angry about the delay, said last week that on the May 14 election day he talked to Yellow Cab employees passing out Shade campaign fliers near the O. Henry Middle School polling place.

He said they told him they were from Houston and were paid by their company to travel to Austin and do the electioneering.

Not so, Shade said, after checking with Kargbo with Yellow Cab. Kargbo said that the Yellow Cab contingent did include employees from Houston, none of them drivers, and some nonemployees.

They were campaigning exclusively for Shade, he said.

Regarding Nielsen’s claim about the workers being on the Yellow Cab payroll during their Austin stay, Kargbo said: “That is 100 percent inaccurate. No one was paid to come up and do anything for Shade.”

With the election coming to a climax later this week, it is likely we are going to see even more money flow into the two campaigns. However, almost 12% of the money raised so far came from the taxi cab industry. It appears that of all the issues facing the city of Austin, the taxi cab debate is one of the most influential yet least talked about issues in the race. Yet the least talked about issue could be the one that decides the City Council Election for the Place 3 seat.

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Texas State Senator Mike Jackson added an amendment to the ethics bill (HB 1616) only 48 hours before the regular session ended and seems to be regretting that decision.  Now he wants Gov. Rick Perry to veto his own legislation. 

The amendment was written so that candidates would have been able to expunge from their record any complaint if the candidate could prove it was a mistake in good faith.  According to the bill, candidates would have 14 business days after a complaint was filed to “fix” their reports without penalty so long as there was no “intent to mislead or to misrepresent the information contained in the report.”

However, there was no limitation on how large of a donation could be dismissed and the bill would have the unintended consequence of allowing a candidate to hide a pattern of misreporting potentially embarrassing donations by claiming they were an accounting or typographical error or misunderstanding of reporting requirements.  The bill would also remove the incentives to accurately report campaign contributions and expenditures as well as reduce the Texas Ethics Commission’s revenue from fines.

If Jackson does not get a veto from Perry, he has placed an amendment on to the special session’s Fiscal Matters Senate bill (SB 1) to repeal his earlier amendment.  Although SB 1 is controversial in many respects, the new amendment is a bright spot for proponents of campaign finance reform. The amendment would have been destructive to the campaign process and allowed candidates a loophole in which to exploit. Campaign finance laws need to be reformed but not in this way. Sen. Jackson did well to fix his mistake with his amendment in the special session and should be recognized for owning up to it.

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In a shareholder meeting yesterday, Target executives addressed growing concerns over political actions of the company as well as performance. Shareholders were upset over the $150,000 donation to Minnesota Forward, which is a political group that backed Tom Emmer as a gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota in 2010. Emmer is an opponent of same-sex marriage and the relationship between Target and the candidate sparked a flurry of protests at the time including a flashmob inside one Target store. The singing group even referenced the controversial Supreme Court Ruling in Citizens United v. FEC.




The donation also caused the Pop Star Lady Gaga to end her relationship with Target and urged them to donate to pro-gay rights charities.




Chairman, President and CEO Gregg Steinhafel said in the shareholder meeting that Target “learned a lot last year” and that they “welcome everybody”.  Target Corp. has changed their policy and process on political donations, but some argue that the process has not helped the situation but rather made it less transparent.

Target has been trading at 52 week lows, but the causes are up for debate. The executives of Target point towards their inability to convince consumers to spend on items other than food and other staples. Steinhafel said that shoppers are “still very thoughtful about spending” during these difficult economic times. Although Steinhafel stated in the shareholders meeting that Target is going to remain “neutral” on gay rights as well as “other social issues that have polarizing points of view”, the damage has been done and might continue. The best way to avoid a controversy like this is, as Mike Dean executive director of Common Cause in Minneapolis stated in a newspaper article, to “refrain from political spending”. Citizens United opened the door for unlimited amounts of campaign spending by corporations which can be detrimental to a democratic system. Perhaps the best defense at this point is to boycott those businesses that participate in the process.

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In a recent NPR show, former Labor Secretary and political commentator Robert Reich addressed the potential executive order by President Obama to require government contractors to disclose their political spending. Reich wants to take the executive order a step farther by eliminating all political contributions from government contractors. Reich explains that contractors such as Lockheed Martin get a large portion of their contracts from the federal government and then use that money to lobby members of Congress.

However, not everyone is as much of a fan of the proposed order as Reich. Texas Congressman Jeb Hensarling was scheduled to attend a breakfast yesterday morning hosted by a PAC fro Fluor which is a major government contractor. Last week Rep. Hensarling voted in favor of an amendment to counteract President Obama’s executive order. Adam Smith of Public Campaign wrote on his website ” I wonder if Hensarling discussed his concern about the influence of money in our political process with the government contractor lobbyists handing him money this morning.”

In addition, this cycle has left many Congressional staffers feeling as though Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has changed the game in Congress as showed in a recent Public Citizen survey. Furthermore, as Stephen Colbert demonstrated, the Citizens United ruling made it much easier for unlimited funds to flow into politics.

Colbert proves just how dangerous the Supreme Court ruling can become. He jokes about the implications, but in Texas it is very real. In Texas, individuals as well as corporations have always had a major impact in elections and legislation. Most recently, a new Texans for Public Justice report shows that Bob Perry along with two conservative PAC’s gave substantial amounts of money to opponents of the new Home Owner Association Reform bill. Anther report by Texans for Public Justice shows that the Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons gave money to more than 61 percent of the Texas House of Representatives. Of that group, 83 percent of them voted in favor of the out-of-state nuclear waste bill. Public Citizen advocates for the government to serve the voters and not corporate special interests such as Bob Perry’s Homes or Harold Simmons‘ corporations. Public Citizen Texas fights for clean and fair elections through public financing, not corporate funded elections. We also want greater accountability in government. The public should know where political contributions are coming from, especially when corporations are involved. Because as Stephen Colbert said that the American Dream is about people working hard enough so “someday they can go on to create a legal entity which can then collect unlimited funds [for elections].”

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Most folks outside of Wisconsin and the Washington beltway were not paying much attention to that state’s recent state supreme court justice election, but in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision this election was a study in what judicial elections have evolved into — a trend of “noisier, nastier and costlier” elections that began when the Chamber started targeting judicial candidates in the 1998 elections.  Click here to read the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law’s report, The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2000-2009: Decade of Change.  And click here to check out the TV ads that ran during this campaign.

This might have been a study in public campaign financing as both candidates received $300,000 in public financing to wage their campaigns, but instead it evolved into a battle of outside group spending with incumbent justice Prosser garnering substantially greater financial support than challenger Kloppenburg.

As the groundswell against Wisconsin’s controversial governor Scott Walker built, the ads paid for by outside funding started filling the airwaves.  Prosser received the benefit of $2,216,120 in outside advertising support, and Kloppenburg received $1,365,340 in outside advertising support.

Kloppenburg and Prosser ran neck and neck in this race despite Prosser’s financial advantage, no doubt to Prosser being linked with Walker which greatly handicapped his campaign, and the race ended so closely that there is bound to be a recount so this story is not over, but it is a cautionary tale about the effects of outside support on judicial political campaigns of which Texas has been a target (see, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law’s report, The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2000-2009: Decade of Change.


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.


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While Texas Legislators are furiously looking under every couch cushion to find more revenue this bienium, the Alliance for Clean Texas today highlighted a half dozen strategies that could help Texas close its $27 billion budget deficit.

Texas League of Conservation Voters Press Conference on Green Revenue March 29, 2011

Alliance for Clean Texas Members (l to r) Luke Metzger, Environment Texas; Tom "Smitty" Smith, Public Citizen Texas; Robin Schnieder, Texas Campaign for the Environment; David Weinberg, Texas League of Conservation Voters; Cyrus Reed, Lone Star Chapter Sierra Club - photo courtesy TLCV

As lawmakers are loathe to talk about the dreaded “T” word (tax),  groups like Public Citizen, Sierra Club, Texas Impact, Texas Campaign for the Environment, and Texas League of Conservation Voters, who sponsored this morning’s press conference, are offered alternative solutions to cutting needed education and health care services by raising $1 billion in revenue, while also protecting the environment.

These ideas include a severance tax, like oil and gas currently pay, for coal mined in the state and an import duty from out of state coal. Imported coal creates zero Texas jobs and pollutes the environment. If we’re going to ask oil and gas to pay a severance tax, we ought to ask coal to do the same.

Other ideas include making polluters pay the value they get from breaking clean air and water laws (ie, if by polluting you increase your profit by $15 million, you pay $15 million in fines), a surcharge on inefficient gas guzzlers and heavily polluting vehicles, and a recycling refund on bottles and cans (just clap your hands, just clap your hands!).

Cutting pollution would also mean fewer sick kids, fewer sick people in general.  Children and the elderly are most at risk for pollution-caused or -aggravated disease AND they are the most likely to receive assistance from government health care services, so cutting pollution will save the state untold millions, if not billions. AND, since sick children are less likely to attend and be successful in school, cutting pollution also improves the quality of our schools– a triple value for our pollution-cutting dollar!

Combine this with former Lt. Governor Hobby calling on the state to end the tax credit on high-cost drilling operations (read: fracking) valued at $7.4 billion between 2004 and 2009.  We had previously pointed out the hypocrisy of making the oil and gas industry’s culture of corporate welfare the only sacred cow in the budget due to their protected status resulting from all their campaign contributions.

Well, between the billions from the fracking exemption, the billion of Green revenue the ACT coalition mentioned… as they say in Washington, “A billion here, a billion there– pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

Alliance for Clean Texas has a $1 billion check for the Texas Legislature

Alliance for Clean Texas has a $1 billion check for the Texas Legislature

State lawmakers who are serious about balancing the budget without brutalizing our schools, nursing homes, and hospitals ought to look carefully at these proposals and implement them.  Even in the coldest, darkest winter, a farmer cannot start eating his own seed, as it will impact his ability to plant in the spring. Cutting necessary services to the bone and then sucking out the marrow will leave Texas cupboards bare, both literally and figuratively, as we struggle out of this recession.

The answer is simple- cut pollution, not teachers, doctors, and nursing home beds. Don’t let big polluters get their way, forcing grandma out onto the street and your kids into overcrowded classrooms.

The Texas House will be taking up HB 1, the budget, this Friday, and debate is expected to last all day and into the night. Texas Impact, one of our colleagues in ACT, along with several other groups are organizing a vigil for Texas’ future during the debate. RSVP on Facebook and we’ll see you there!

Look! A press release! From today’s press conference! (more…)

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Corporations aren’t people and elections shouldn’t be for sale. 

If you agree, you’ll love “The Story of Citizens United v. FEC,” a new 8-minute animated short by Annie Leonard, of The Story of Stuff fame.


Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, we have overwhelming evidence of the damage done to our democracy. Leonard explains the ruling, its fallout and why we need to overturn it.

Watch the video then help rescue democracy by clicking here and taking action.

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Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Lawrence Lessig, Professor at Harvard Law School, is coming to Austin to speak on the corrosive influence of Money in Politics.

Lawrence Lessig, Professor at Harvard Law School, is coming to Austin to speak on the corrosive influence of Money in Politics, thanks to our good friends at the Coffee Party Austin.  Seating is limited, and having a ticket will guarantee you a seat. However, if you do not get a ticket, there will be some seats left for those no-show ticket holders. We want to fill the room, so even if you don’t get a ticket, show up and chances are you can get in.

We’ve decided to give these away in a fashion befitting both Dr. Lessig and the Coffee Party, via social media. We will give away some via our Twitter, some on our Facebook, between now and the weekend. So friend us or follow us for your chance to score some of these fabulous prizes.

If you’ve never seen a Lessig presentation, you need to.  Watch this brief clip, via Lessig’s FixCongressFirst Youtube page:

We’ll be giving tickets away several times a day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, so keep a watch on our Twitter/Facebook for your chance for guaranteed entrance to what will definitely be an amazing evening.

Professor Lessig’s presentation will be followed by a panel discussion, moderated by the Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg, featuring (more…)

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