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photo by Jody Horton voters could be allowed to decide by what road they prefer to travel. That, as the poet says, may make all the difference. THE BEST LEADERSHIP MONEY CAN BUY A good argument can be made that Texas’ inability to deal with its pressing problems stems from the ironclad grip a few contributors and lobbyists hold over the state’s policy agenda. The influence of their money drives the privatization debate and is felt in most every policy area, from education to transportation and electricity to social services. In one small example, most Texans, including most legislators, are opposed to school vouchers. The fear is that they will take money away from already underfunded public schools. Yet in 2005, Speaker Craddick scheduled a vote on a voucher bill. Might this have had something to do with the fact that the state’s biggest voucher proponent, hospital-bed magnate James Leininger, is also one of the GOP’s biggest political donors? Most recently, in the 2005-2006 election cycle, Leininger gave more than $5 million to Texas candidates. He’s not the only one. Republican home builder Bob Perry the biggest political donor in the state and nationgave $6.7 million to Texas candidates and political action commit tees, according to campaign watchdog Texans for Public Justice. A number of simple steps could instantly diminish the power of money over sound public policy in Texas. The first would be an aggregate limit on individual contributions. Texas is one of the few states that have no limits on the size of campaign contributions, allowing mega-donors like Perry and Leininger to swamp an election with an endless flow of cash. During the 2004 election cycle, 87 individuals or couples donated more than $100,000 each to state candidates and committees. This accounted for 10 percent of all political donations. TPJ is part of a campaign-reform coalition that has suggested a modest contribution cap of $100,000 per election cycle. While legislation has been filed along these lines, with the current leadership it’s not likely to prosper. In June 2006, state District Judge Mike Lynch tossed out a felony indictment against the Texas Association of Business. Lynch ruled that TAB had not expressly advocated the election or defeat of candidates when it spent $1.9 million in secret corporate money on “issue” ads in the 2002 election cycle. Lynch wrote in his order that most this indictment aren’t equipped to do the job [of keeping corporate money out of elections]:’ Unless the law is strengthened to strictly prohibit the use of corporate money for electioneering, business interests like TAB will once again use undisclosed corporate money to smear candidates with whom they disagree. Finally, more legislation would probably not be necessary if Texas had a functioning Ethics Commission. Unfortunately, to call the current commission dysfunctional and ineffectual is charitable. It is a paper tiger, underfunded and, worse, loathe to enforce the law or improve upon it through its rule-making authority. At a minimum, legislators should create a separate lawenforcement division for the commission. They should also provide for a budget based on a funding formula that is independent of the Legislature. Finally, the eight-member commission should be abolished and replaced with one accountable executive director. As with most of what Texas desperately needs fixed, the state’s leaders won’t likely give the keys to the henhouse back to the public this session without a fight. a non-technical, common-sense people” Additional writing and reporting by Dave would see the ads as clearly violating Mann, Eileen Welsome, Forrest Wilder, the law, but that “these statutes and and lake Bernstein. JANUARY 26, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21