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More than 12-hundred missing in the California wildfires. Also on the Monday rundown: a pair of reports on gun violence in the nation; plus concerns that proposed Green-Card rules favor the wealthy.

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Report: Rules Loose, Independent Campaign Spending Low in TX

August 31, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - The U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 cleared the way for unlimited campaign spending by independent groups, unions, and corporations as long as the candidates who stand to benefit stay out of the loop. Some states already are seeing substantial increases in independent expenditures on local races thanks, in part, to the Citizens United ruling.

However, http://www.followthemoney.org/press/ReportView.phtml?r=459" target="parent">a new report finds that in Texas, independent spending has held steady at just 1 percent of overall campaign spending. Edwin Bender, executive director of Follow the Money, the research organization behind the report, says this doesn't mean Texas politics is any less money-driven.

"Texas is the Wild West. You've got no contribution limits. People can give money all they want. It is a different animal. There's not really a need to do independent expenditure campaigns."

Between 2006 and 2010, Texas campaigns saw about $5 million in independent expenditures, according to the report, compared with about $500 million in direct contributions to state-level candidates and ballot measures.

But these figures could be way off. Bender says Texas has some glaring flaws in its reporting requirements. For example, the state only tracks independent spending on electioneering that clearly says to vote "for" or "against" a certain candidate.

While state-level independent spending is going up around the country, Bender says corporate spending levels are staying fairly flat - despite the Citizens United decision. He thinks many businesses don't want to alienate potential customers with displays of political activism.

"For them to say, 'We are, as a company, going to give $10 million to elect this slate of candidates,' is really going out on a limb. And I don't think you're going to see that from very many corporations."

He says it's possible that corporate spending will increase in years to come, as businesses weigh public-relations risks against the benefits of influencing local tax and regulatory policies or winning government contracts.

Jeff Friedman, research director at Maplight.org, which looks at the influence of money in politics, thinks today's biggest problem is not the amount of money being spent but the lack of transparency regarding who's doing the spending.

"They're allowed to come up with any benign-sounding name for the organization and put forth their particular slant on the issue, but without knowing any kind of the motivation behind it."

For instance, the largest independent spender in Texas during the 2010 season was a group known as Conservative Republicans of Texas, which helled out a bit more than $500,000. The Follow the Money report notes that many groups make it difficult to determine exactly who's funding such organizations.

The full Texas report is online at followthemoney.org.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX