Sunday, July 24, 2005

Paying a premium to ensure victory for the Texas GOP

This has been an evolving story in Texas politics that has incredible implications for school, or other social welfare funding, etc. It reveals the inner-workings of a corporate state. -Angela

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Texas Association of Business might have given Texans an unintended look at just why there is a law against corporations contributing to political campaigns. And if it beats back all the civil lawsuits and criminal investigations, consumers will discover what living under a corporately controlled state government is really like.

As reported by this newspaper's Laylan Copelin in Friday's editions, insurers contributed at least $580,000, and possibly much more, of the $1.7 million raised by the business association's political campaign in the 2002 legislative races. The association has tried to keep the names of contributors, and how much each contributed, secret. But Copelin pieced together a large part of the picture from court documents.

If you think this has nothing to do with you, congratulations: You must be one of the few Texans satisfied that your homeowners' insurance premium is reasonably priced, even if it provides far less coverage than it did before 2003.

The business association's 2002 campaign was, under any plain reading of the law, illegal because it accepted secret donations from corporations that were then spent on behalf of Republican legislative candidates. State law bars corporations from contributing to election campaigns, and it requires that all campaign contributions be public.

But the business association argues that its ads never used certain "magic words" such as "elect," so that — technically — they weren't election ads. And because the ads were not campaign ads, the association argues, it is not required to reveal its donors.

None of this stopped the association from bragging, after its 2002 campaign, that it "blew the doors off the November 5 general election using an unprecedented show of muscle that featured political contributions and a massive voter education drive" to elect a slate of highly pro-business candidates.

As Copelin showed in his story Friday, one of the biggest secret contributors to the association's campaign was the insurance industry, which was facing a firestorm of public anger over huge increases in homeowners' premiums. The industry was also under assault because of rising medical malpractice premiums. And, with the rest of the business community, it wanted to make it more difficult for injured plaintiffs to sue and win judgments against them.

The Legislature that convened in January 2003 faced that homeowners' anger and ultimately adopted some reforms. Most companies cut their premiums somewhat, though only under pressure from the insurance commissioner. What we'll never know is whether the Legislature would have been more responsive to consumer interests had fewer of its members depended, indirectly, on insurance industry campaign contributions. The 2003 Legislature also enacted landmark tort reform legislation that also helped insurers.

This year there was an effort in the Legislature to remove any supposed loopholes from state election law regarding the ban on corporate contributions. But the legislation died in a House committee: Why bite the business hand that feeds you?

If the business association wins its lawsuits and thwarts any criminal charges, a whole new era of corporate campaign contributions will begin, and none of it will be given with the average Texan in mind. If you don't think so, take another look at your homeowners' insurance premium.

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