Open Forum, continued from page 11 irrelevant. Legislative candidates, not surprisingly, ignore small donors and seek the big dough from the rich and famous. A matching plan for legislative candidates could amplify small donations and help level the playing field. For example, a three-to-one match for contributions up to $125 would be worth $500. This could give candidates an incentive to pay attention to smaller donors. Where would the money come from to fund such a system? There exists a perfect funding source that I am confident Texans will support: a 6-percent sales tax on state lobbyist contracts. Since Texas has so many lobbyist contracts \(worth between $100 could raise plenty of funds to enhance the power of average folks. 4.ESTABLISHING AN INDEPENDENT REDISTRICTING COMMISSION In a democracy, voters should be supreme and choose their elected representatives. Under most states’ redistricting practices, democracy is subverted and politicians are supreme: They choose their voters. The practice is unfair whether perpetrated by Democrats or Republicans. Texas needs a fair process, similar to those of Iowa and Arizona, which protects the voting rights of all voters to competitive districts where their votes count. A fair redistricting process would have an independent commission, evenly balanced between the political parties so that its decisions are balanced and impartial. Eligibility for serving on the commission would be restricted to ensure impartial members \(no candidates, lobbyists, political would be required to draw districts based only on specific fair criteria, such as compactness, protecting communities of interest, electoral competitiveness, and adhering to the Voting Rights Act. 5.ESTABLISHING AN INDEPENDENT, EFFECTIVE ENFORCEMENT AGENCY Without enforcement, the best laws are meaningless. District attorneys can bring only a few criminal cases on campaign finance violations. We need a Texas civil enforcement agency that works. Unfortunately, our tough-oncrime legislators ensured that the Texas Ethics Commission would be toothless and clawlessand unable to enforce our campaign laws against them and their friends. The agency needs to be completely overhauled. Its enforcement process, which is essentially closed to the public, must be made open so there can be public accountability. Its board must be removed from having to approve each staff enforcement act, which boards don’t do at any other agency. We also need a state constitutional amendment that removes the agency’s budget from the control of the Legislature. This would ensure that a functioning agency still would have plenty of funds to enforce the laws that protect the power of voters. THE MOST IMPORTANT SOLUTION: YOU GET INVOLVED The only real cure for the serious ills of Texas democracy is an army of engaged citizens demanding reforms. At this crucial opportunity for reform, the most important issue is whether you are going to get involved and demand changes to restore your power. If you and your friends don’t get involved and tell your legislators that you are mad as hell and won’t take it any more, nothing will happen. Legislators, Democrats and Republicans, aren’t going to change the campaign finance game since they win under the current rules without a sweatunless you make it clear that if they don’t support reform you will throw them out on their ears. Now is the timeafter the corporate corruption of the 2002 state elections and the abuses of redistrictingfor you to get involved and clean up Texas politics. This is the best opportunity for fundamental reforms in Texas since the Sharpstown scandal a generation ago. Don’t miss the action. Here is what you can do that we know works: Become informed, organized, and involved. First, go online to www. cleanup texaspolitics.com and sign up to become part of the electronic Clean Up Texas Politics action team. This interactive site provides the latest information about Texas campaign corruption and will provide you, through e-mail, ways to become organized and to pressure the Legislature for reform. If you become part of the team, you will be kept informed of important developments and told of opportunities to influence the Legislature. We know this action alert approach works because it worked in the 2003 Legislature. Five thousand electronic activists across Texas, part of Campaigns for People’s Show Us the Money Coalition, forced the Legislature, despite resistance, to pass House Bill 1606, which is establishing in Texas one of the nation’s best campaign disclosure systems. These organized citizens bombarded the Legislature with phone calls and faxes, with important legislators getting on average 300 faxes and 40 phone calls. Legislators started to realize that people cared and were watching. Although they did not like the idea of voters knowing more about their campaign money, they passed an excellent disclosure bill. In the next legislative session we can enact fundamental reforms in Texas. But instead of 5,000 electronic activists, we need tens of thousands of informed and engaged supporters. Even the distant, out-of-touch Texas Legislature will satisfy the demands of an informed and engaged stampede of angry voters demanding democracy. People power is the only way to defeat money power. Two of the three ingredients needed for fundamental reform exist today in Texas. We have a crisis and a scandal that is exposing just how serious the situation has become. There are workable solutions that other states have successfully put into practice. Now all that’s needed is a genuine people’s movement to force a reluctant legislature into action. That depends on you and your friends. The time to get involved is now. Fred Lewis is an attorney and is president of Campaigns for People, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that supports state campaign finance reform. 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3/12/04
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