by Mary Tuma
A record number of political action committees (PACs) flushed Texas– and some nationwide– coffers during the 2012 elections, finds a new study by Texans for Public Justice, a non-profit watchdog group that tracks money in state politics. Some 1,364 Texas PACs spent $126 million in the two-year cycle, according to the TPJ analysis.
Image via TPJ.
While that cash donation figure is down five percent from the 2010 gubernatorial election, the overall number of PACs doling out cash to influence state elections is on the rise, increasing 41 percent over the past decade. And the total PAC spending jumped nearly 50 percent during the same time frame.
Business PACs, led by fracking-hungry energy and natural resources companies, make up 56 percent of all the PAC money spent in Texas. Comparatively, Labor PACs account for just 6 percent of PAC expenditures, the report finds– numbers indicative of Texas' anti-labor and business cozy climate.
"The one moral here is how the business community expresses its political clout– through direct giving–and dominates Texas politics," TPJ director Craig McDonald tells the Current.
San Antonio-based Valero Energy Corp., tops the list of energy PACs, spending $2 million overall, with $729,413 in Texas, including contributions to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and $27,500 to gubernatorial candidate and state Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has filed lawsuit after lawsuit against the EPA to weaken environmental regulation and green-gas emission rules, as TPJ notes.
Some other SA-links: The San Antonio Police Officers Association stands as a top Labor PAC, spending more than $317,000; Deputy Sheriff's Assn. of Bexar County ($127,000) and the San Antonio Board of Realtors, who spent more than $300,00 in 2010 but went AWOL in 2012.
As for “dark money”– funds legally shielded from public disclosure – conservative nonprofit Empower Texans led the way under its 501(c)(4) arm, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. Known for attacking moderate Republicans, the group pumped $460,000 into the 2012 cycle. The second largest 'dark money' funder, Texas Organizing Project, which helps low-income families and protests against attacks to Obamacare, spent $230,000.
McDonald says that while 'dark money' has a growing influence on the national political playing field (think Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, which infused the 2012 elections with millions in ads naysaying Democrats), the phenomenon is relatively new for Texas. Recent efforts to increase transparency were stomped out by Gov. Rick Perry. While a bill that would add reporting requirements to dark money groups passed during the 2013 legislative session, Perry vetoed the measure, saying it would have, "a chilling effect" on both of freedom of association and speech in the democratic political process. (Because there's nothing more Democratic than banishing disclosure laws!)
It's troubling for groups like TPJ who work to promote transparency and accountability along the political money trail.
"If we don’t pass dark money disclosure laws, we won’t see where the money comes from. And right now, they’re getting away with that," said McDonald. "If it keeps going on, it will just overwhelm the system– when everyone is using dark money or these non-profits for political contributions, it’ll be too late to open the windows on it.”