FOI Spotlight: House committee hears testimony on ‘dark money’

By Kelley Shannon
FOI Foundation of Texas
Executive Director

AUSTIN _ Texans have the right “to make a very informed decision” when choosing their elected officials, the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee said Thursday during a hearing on what to do about tracking so-called dark money in campaigns.

“This affects their voting decisions,” said Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, who chairs the State Affairs Committee, which held a hearing as part of its interim studies. “Something needs to be done to fix this issue.”

Cook and other legislators asked detailed and pointed questions of invited witnesses, who gave assorted views on whether donors to certain non-profit organizations should be revealed if the organization spends money on influencing campaigns.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, a Republican from Utah, testified on what his state did to address the matter. He said Utah lawmakers felt that “shining the light of day” on the flow of money in elections was useful for the public. “If there’s nothing wrong with this hidden money, then why was such an effort made to keep it secret?” he said.

Jim Clancy, chairman of the Texas Ethics Commission, told lawmakers, “The defense mechanism the public has is in knowing who is making that contribution.”

The Texas Legislature passed a dark money bill in 2013, but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it. The Legislature convenes again in 2015.