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The Brief: April 21, 2010

Today, the Texas Ethics Commission votes on a rule reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing corporations to spend money in elections.

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Today, the Texas Ethics Commission votes on a rule reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing corporations to spend money in elections.

The rule would require corporations who bankroll advertising for or against candidates to file disclosure reports revealing where the money came from. (Citizens United didn't lift the current restriction against direct donations of corporate money to candidates).

Watchdog groups say the rule may not cover trade associations and “political ‘front’ groups” to disclose donors, like the Texas Association of Business, which famously teamed with then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay’s political action committee to wrest the state House from Democratic control in 2002.

According to the Houston Chronicle’s R.G. Ratcliffe:

The Texas Association of Business faced lawsuits and indictments because it used $1.7 million in corporate money to pay for “issue” ads that helped Republicans win 18 of 22 targeted state House races. A state district judge in Austin later threw out the indictments because the ads did not specifically advocate the election or defeat of the candidates.

Since Citizens United, Texas has already seen its first corporate ad: it appeared in East Texas newspapers, funded by KDR Development Inc., a real estate company. The ad attacked state Rep. Chuck Hopson, R-Jacksonsville, who, when he was still a Democrat, happened to beat the president of that company, Republican Larry Durrett, in 2006.


• Soon the Governor’s Mansion won’t be the only state building undergoing a facelift: the State Preservation Board has announced the dome of the Capitol will be repainted — inside and out —  along with House chamber, which will first be stripped of lead paint. The restoration will shut off access to both the dome and the House chamber until the end of this year, supposedly in time for the legislative session to begin in January 2011.

• Anti-Obamacare activists gathered at the Capitol yesterday, rallied by speakers including former New York governor George Pataki, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Attorney General Greg Abbott, Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, and state Sen. Dan Patrick. Dewhurst warned the crowd of about 100 that the president’s healthcare plan would either force the state to raise taxes or “cut back in programs like public education, like higher education, like public safety, like transportation.”

• Want to start your morning with an interim committee hearing? The Senate Education Committee can put you in business. At 9 am today, it will review the state policy concerning middle schoolers’ preparation for high school, including “an examination of school-based strategies and best practices that encourage at-risk youth to finish school and that deter delinquency, drug abuse, and violence.”

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality finds itself wielding more power than usual over school finances at the moment. If it decides to allow Valero Energy Corp. a property tax exemption for pollution control equipment called “hydrotreaters” that remove sulfur from gas and diesel to reduce emissions, the commission could deprive schools in some districts of nearly 85 percent of their funding.

“Obama’s bill perpetuates the culture of dependence…a culture that has been destructive to the black community.” — Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, who is black, at yesterday’s Capitol anti-healthcare reform rally.


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