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Monday, July 24, 2006

Of government and forms

By MIKE McILVAIN

“We have been hearing from some angry lawmakers,” Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDonald said after his organization’s report on campaign donor disclosure went public last month.
Laredo-based District 42 state representative Richard Raymond wasn’t one of them, receiving high praise for properly disclosing the names and amounts he received, but Laredo’s District 21 state Senator Judith Zaffirini and District 80 area state rep. Tracy King didn’t fare as well.
Zaffirini and King both argued that their poorer grading by the Austin-based watchdog organization was due to discrepancies in the paper forms used to comply with new regulations on campaign disclosure. Both also said they had no intention of hiding anything in the forms required by the Texas Ethics Commission. Raymond did not return phone and e-mail messages to his office about the report, however.
“Ain’t Nobody’s Business: Lawmakers Flunk Big-Donor Disclosure,” available on the TPJ Web site said, “Three senators and 28 representatives left the occupation and employer fields blank every time they reported a large donation. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, (D-Laredo) raised the largest amount of these all-blank contributions ($226,400),” the report said.
The report said three of Zaffirini’s mystery donors were Beaumont and Houston law firms each contributing $25,000.
“Zaffirini, a champion of tobacco-control legislation, failed to identify the employers or occupations of three trial lawyers who litigated Texas’ $15 billion lawsuit against the tobacco industry,” the report said.
The report added that King (D-Batesville), choked on the disclosure of a former Texas governor – a $15,000 donation from Dolph Briscoe of Uvalde.
McDonald noted that the report, handled largely by an intern from the University of Texas, Omair Khan, took all of its information from what the candidates had filed and that the Dallas Morning News, Associated Press and San Antonio Express-News have all written something about it.
“It’s gotten some attention,” McDonald said. “This the first time for this report.”
McDonald added that TPJ constantly analyzes campaign contributions and spending.
Zaffirini and King have put their responses to the report down in writing.
“Under no circumstances would we knowingly violate any reporting requirement,” Zaffirini said to the Texas Ethics Commission in a June 30 letter. “The forms they used and that were approved by the TEC all indicate that including occupational information is optional. Because we used these forms, we thought we were complying fully with reporting requirements.”
King said in an e-mail that he has no problem with the disclosure requirements, but notes three reports have been due since the new law requiring disclosure of the employer and profession of contributors of more than $500.
“The last two reports have that space filled in every time. The first report after the new requirements became law had a few blanks in that spot due to a software issue I had at that time. That was later corrected and that blank has been filled every time it was required since then,” King said. “Apparently, the TPJ did not think the descriptions were adequate in some cases. Obviously, I thought the descriptions were adequate and certainly represented my best efforts.”
Note: All state lawmakers, including Zaffirini, King and Raymond, have Web sites easily found through any good online search engine and there is much to read for those seriously interested in learning about political campaign money. Some of those sites are: www.tpj.org; www.ethics.state.org; www.followthemoney.org; www.corporations.org; www.publicintegrity.org; www.campaignsforpeople.org; www.commoncause.org; www.publicampaign.org; www.citizen.org; www.texpirg.org; www.vote-smart.org and www.campaigndisclosure.org.

Note: This is the blog version of a very similar story published in the July edition of LareDOS in Laredo, Texas.

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