House Approves Major Transparency Bill


The House gave initial approval to a bill on Monday aimed at tea party activist Michael Quinn Sullivan.

The measure would require politically active nonprofits, like the one Sullivan heads, to disclose their political contributions. It was a win for bill sponsor Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), who successfully defeated all amendments, keeping the bill “clean.”

Geren wanted to keep the language of Senate Bill 346 the same as the version passed by the Senate. If the Senate and House pass identical versions, the bill would go straight to Gov. Rick Perry, instead of back to the Senate or to a conference committee, where the bill would face an uncertain future.  That’s because the Senate approved the legislation but soon after the vote, some senators, namely Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), said they’d made a mistake and tried to reverse the vote. At that point the legislation had already been handed over to the House. It’s not clear whether Perry would sign the bill or veto it.

Sullivan is known as a Republican enforcer and no friend of House Speaker Joe Straus. Sullivan heads Empower Texans, a nonprofit devoted to electing more conservative Republicans to office and challenging members of Straus’ leadership team. In the past several sessions, he has hassled GOP lawmakers, especially through social media, for not being conservative enough, routinely threatening lawmakers with election challenges.

It’s hard to know who exactly is funding Sullivan’s cause—and that of other political nonprofits—because they haven’t had to disclose their donors. But under the bill, 501(c)(4) nonprofits would be required to report political contributions of more than $1,000.

“If someone wants to hide, my suggestion would be don’t get into the political realm,” Geren said after calling out Sullivan on the floor (which Sullivan thanked him for on Twitter). “If you want to play, play by the same rules everyone else does.”

Geren said there are people who are impacting what the Legislature does and aren’t reporting how their doing it or what politicians are receiving that funding.

“I think that’s what the problem is when you’ve got people running around giving millions of dollars, spending millions of dollars and keeping their contributors a secret,” Geren said.

The major issue some representatives had with the bill is language regarding unions because they aren’t held to the same reporting standards as the non-profit corporations. Geren told representatives he would try to better tailor the language once it passed, but if any amendments were added to clarify it now then the bill would die once back in the Senate. Rep. Richard Peña Raymond (D-Laredo) pressed Rep. Phil King, who introduced an amendment on unions, to confess that he was trying to kill the bill.

“Just say it,” Raymond said. “This is about transparency. Let’s be transparent. Just say ‘I Phil King am trying to kill this bill instead of letting the people of Texas know which rich folk, which big money is going in to big government, going in to buy big government. That’s what this bill is about. People want to know. People want to know who’s pouring in millions of dollars and trying to buy politicians.”

Geren and his supporters convinced enough of the House to put aside all of the proposed amendments and initially approve the bill on a vote of 99-46. The House will take a final vote on the bill today. If it passes unchanged, the bill goes to Perry’s desk.