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Texas Observer VOLUME 96, NO. 19 A Journal of Free Voices Since 1954 Founding Editor Ronnie Dugger Executive Editor Jake Bernstein Editor Barbara Belejack Associate Editor Dave Mann Managing Publisher Charlotte McCann Associate Publisher Jim Ball Circulation Manager Lara George Art Direction Buds Design Kitchen Poetry Editor Naomi Shihab Nye Copy Editor Roxanne Bogucka Webmaster Adrian Quesada Interns Kris Bronstad, Jessica Chapman, Megan Giller, Dan Mottola, Aaron Nelsen Contributing Writers Nate Blakeslee, Gabriela Bocagrande, Robert Bryce, Michael Erard, James K. Galbraith, Dagoberto Gilb, Steven G. Kellman, Lucius Lomax, James McWilliams, Char Miller, Debbie Nathan, Karen Olsson, John Ross Staff Photographers Alan Pogue, Jana Birchum. Contributing Artists Sam Hurt, Kevin Kreneck, Michael Krone, Gary Oliver, Doug Potter, Penny Van Horn Editorial Advisory Board David Anderson, Chandler Davidson, Dave Denison, Sissy Farenthold, John Kenneth Galbraith, Lawrence Goodwyn, Jim Hightower, Kaye Northcott, Susan Reid. Honorary Newshound Bobby In Memoriam Bob Eckhardt, 1913-2001, Cliff Olofson, 1931-1995 Texas Democracy Foundation Board Lou Dubose, Ronnie Dugger, Marc Grossberg, Molly Ivins, D’Ann Johnson, Jim Marston, Gilberto Ocaiias, Bernard Rapoport, Geoffrey Rips. tents copyrighted 2004, is published biweekly except every foundation, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. E-mail [email protected] World Wide Web DownHome page . Periodicals Postage Paid at Austin, Texas. Subscriptions One year $32, two years $59, three years $84. Full-time students $18 per year; add $13/year for foreign subs. Back issues $3 prepaid. Airmail, foreign, group, and bulk rates on request. Microfilm available from University Microfilms Intl., 300 N. Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. Indexes The Texas Observer is indexed in Access: The Supplementary Index to Periodicals; Texas Index and, for the years 1954 through 1981, The Texas Observer Index. POSTMASTER Send address changes to: The Texas Observer, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. The Books & the Culture section is partially funded through grants from the City of Austin under the auspices of the Austin Arts Commission and the Writer’s League of Texas, both in cooperation with the Texas Commission on the Arts. 1 t’s amazing how quickly some politicians can discover a previously absent ethical bent when a scandal comes to town. Firstdegree felony indictments can really focus the mind that way. On September 21, a Travis County grand jury returned 32 criminal indictments against three individuals and eight corporations with links to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay \(R-Sugar practice two years ago now gives off the beginnings of a malodorous stench. The indictments allege that DeLay’s Texans for a Republican Majority \(TRMto aid a select slate of Republican state House candidates in 2002. TRMPAC blew open a loophole in the law with an expansive definition of “administrative” expenses that included such items as political polling and phone banks. Staffers affiliated with the PAC also allegedly laundered corporate money through the Republican National Committee. To date, much of the media attention has focused on whether DeLay and friends violated the law to secure a middecade redrawing of the state’s congressional districts. But there’s more to this whole affair than the machinations of the majority leader. TRMPAC teamed with the Texas Association of Business and other affiliated Republican groups to raise and spend at least $2.5 million from corporate donors in the 2002 campaign. Some of those contributors simply wanted to curry favor with DeLay. Many others, however, asked for specific goodies from the 78th Legislature. Few were disappointed. Big Insurance got industry-friendly rates, nursing homes got lawsuit protection, the banks received a constitutional amendment authorizing home equity lines of credit, AT&T halted a telecom deregulation bill. And that’s just a partial list. Since 2002, the ethos at the Lege seems to be “pay to play.” Despite the burgeoning scandal, the influence of corporate money in the Lege continues. After redistricting, DeLay’s operation in Texas went into hibernation but Speaker Tom Craddick fundraising effort for himself in fall 2003 called Stars Over Texas PAC. Undeterred by the TRMPAC inquiry, Stars Over Texas began raising money from some the same corporate benefactors who had donated to TRMPAC. \(At first, Stars Over Texas even hired TRMPAC AT&T gave $100,000 in corporate cash. Eight payday loan companiesincluding Check’n Go of Texas, Cash America, and Mister Money, USAcontributed a total of $8,500 in corporate money in eight separate checks on March 29, 2004. Payday loan companies, which charge working families astronomical interest rates, want the Texas market deregulated. Stars Over Texas also hosted an Austin fund-raiser on September 16. Listed on the event’s invitation among the “host committee” were a number of corporate contributors, including AT&T, Comcast, and Centerpoint Energy. It appeared rather unseemly. After all, $110,000 is a lot of money to spend solely on administrative expenses, unless the PAC is renting office space on New York City’s Park Avenue and buying gold-trimmed paper for the copier. Following the Sharpstown scandal of 1972, real reform came to the Capitol, prompting passage of some of Texas’ best open-government laws. This coming legislative session offers an opportunity to rid the system of the influence of corporate money and to restore a modicum of faith in the legislative process. Perhaps several rounds of indictments will provide lawmakers the needed political will. Three days after the indictments came down, Stars Over Texas announced it would return all its corporate donations. It was a small, first victory for campaign finance reformers. It shouldn’t be the last. EDITORIAL Ending Pay to Play 10/8/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3