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The Brief: May 2, 2014

The rapid rise of so-called dark money, contributions made through political nonprofits that shield their donors' identities, drew the attention of a House panel on Thursday.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

The Big Conversation

The rapid rise in Texas of so-called dark money, contributions made through political nonprofits that shield their donors' identities, drew the attention of a House panel on Thursday.

"Anonymous campaign cash from politically active nonprofits that don't disclose the identity of donors represents a small fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into Texas elections — but that's set to change if state lawmakers don't act quickly to shine a light on secret spending," the San Antonio Express-News' David Saleh Rauf reported. "That was the sentiment from several members of a House panel and a top state campaign finance regulator, who warned Thursday that dark money spending is on the uptick across the state and could even double in the 2014 general election cycle."

The Associated Press' Will Weissert wrote that Texas Ethics Commission Chairman Jim Clancy told lawmakers that dark money had made up just 2 percent of all political contributions since 2010. But, he added, "their frequency has grown fast in recent months — and could continue to spike if disclosure rules aren’t changed."

Lawmakers passed legislation last year in an attempt to force disclosure of dark-money political donations, but the bill was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry. Thursday's hearing could be seen as a first engagement on an issue that's sure to see plenty more action next legislative session. And while lawmakers on the House State Affairs Committee continued to speak out on the need for disclosure, representatives of conservative and Tea Party groups were equally adamant against further disclosure requirements.

Empower Texans' Michael Quinn Sullivan said of disclosure advocates in a press conference before the hearing, "If they can’t win on the merits of their ideas, they are attempting to win through oppression and official intimidation." And U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, posted on Facebook his opposition to added disclosure requirements, calling the proposed laws "pernicious."

The Day Ahead

•    The two remaining Republican candidates for lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst and Dan Patrick, square off at 7 p.m. for a debate broadcast from Houston Public Media studios. We will livestream the feed from the Houston station.

Today in the Trib

When is a State Contract Too Big to Fail?: "While health officials have repeatedly raised concerns with a state contractor for its role in opening the door to a massive Medicaid fraud scheme, they have not severed its multiyear contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars."

For State Politicians, BLM Dispute is Fertile Turf: "Several Texas politicians have helped draw national attention to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's plans to manage a stretch of Red River land. Area lawmakers who have been working this year on a resolution welcome the extra attention."

Analysis: Some Districts Just Don't Vote: "It doesn't matter how many votes you get in a legislative or congressional election as long as it's more than the opponent. It is possible to win a legislative election with fewer votes than some of the losers."

Ethics Allegations Shake Up Texas Attorney General Race: "The first round of the GOP fight for attorney general resembled most of the Republican primary battles this year. But in the runoff, allegations that one candidate broke the law may have shifted the dynamics of the race."

Fight Over Reservoir Ramps Up as Decision Draws Near: "The Texas Water Development Board will decide next month whether to continue planning for the controversial Marvin Nichols reservoir in northeast Texas. The battle over the reservoir has pitted thirsty Dallas-Fort Worth against rural landowners to the east."


Timeline Describes Frantic Scene at Oklahoma Execution, The New York Times

Embattled sex offender agency director quitsHouston Chronicle

ERCOT: State’s electricity supplies are fine heading into summer, Austin American-Statesman

More agents coming to Texas, Brownsville Herald

A&M regents appoint UT grad as Aggie law dean, pledge $25 million, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Big donor secrecy: ‘Irony, but it’s not hypocrisy’, Politico

Donors Weigh Jilting Christie for Jeb Bush, The New York Times

George W. Bush says “I hope Jeb runs”, The Dallas Morning News

Quote to Note

"He needs something extraordinary, because if the status quo continues he will lose. He needs Patrick to make some type of error. One person in this debate is a professional broadcaster who is used to speaking like this, and the other is an adequate debater at best.”

— Rice University political science professor Mark Jones on the stakes for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in two upcoming debates against Dan Patrick

News From Home

•    The first round of speakers for the Sept. 19-21 Texas Tribune Festival has been announced, with Ted CruzKay Bailey HutchisonJulián and Joaquín CastroJon HuntsmanBill BradleyKasim ReedLeticia Van de Putte and Chris Hayes among the more than 75 speakers lined up so far.

Registration is now open. Students and educators can attend for just $50. Tribune members can register through July 10 at the discounted rate of $125. Non-members pay a short-time early-bird rate of $150, which works out to a 50 percent discount off the walk-up rate. Go here to sign up.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    The Texas Tribune Festival On the Road presents a one-day symposium on STEM Education at UT-Dallas, 5/5

•    A Conversation With Rep. Dan Branch, Candidate for Attorney General, at the Austin Club, 5/8

•    A Conversation With U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway at Midland College in Midland, 5/13

•    A Conversation With Steve Patterson, UT Men's Athletic Director, at the Austin Club, 5/15

•    A Conversation With Sen. Glenn Hegar, Candidate for State Comptroller, at the Austin Club, 5/29

•    Save the date for the 2014 Texas Tribune Festival: 9/19-9/21

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Health care Politics Dan Patrick David Dewhurst Rick Perry Ted Cruz