The floodgates of Texas political giving are about to reopen on June 21 and they will not close again while the Texas Legislature convenes for upcoming special sessions.
During the regular session, strict regulations require Texas lawmakers to stop accepting donations to their campaign finance accounts. The moratorium on contributions begins 30 days before the regular legislative session and ends 20 days after its conclusion.
The intent of this policy is to prevent any conflict of interest that could arise if legislators were allowed to accept large donations while deliberating on specific bills. Essentially, it’s meant to stop entities from buying votes.
Once the moratorium is lifted next week, numerous donations will be made to legislators by supporters, political action committees, and special interest groups. The lobbyists employed to influence Texas lawmakers have no moratorium on their activity during the regular session, but they will continue their influence by contributing to lawmakers who voted with them during the session, bolstering their re-election efforts. Major donors and special interest groups will also be cutting campaign checks in an effort to put their favorite candidates in a strong financial position with Election Day just around the corner.
But while the campaign finance cycle rolls forward by the calendar, legislation is not truly over for the year. Gov. Greg Abbott has already indicated that at least two special sessions will be called later this year to address his unfulfilled legislative priorities, including several hot-button issues.
And the coffers of every Texas lawmaker will remain wide open throughout those high-priority sessions.
The first special session agenda is expected to include a sweeping elections reform bill after the failure of SB 7 to pass during the regular session. Additionally, a measure to overhaul the bail system will likely appear on that session’s agenda. The second special session, expected to be in October based on U.S. Census data delivery deadlines, will likely address both redistricting and COVID relief spending.
These agendas and timeframes are not yet officially set, and could be amended or changed once Governor Abbott officially calls the sessions.
Regardless of the timeline, the Texas Ethics Commission sets no moratorium on fundraising during special sessions. During both the runup to those sessions and when lawmakers convene, legislators can — and likely will — receive contributions from individuals and entities that have a vested interest in the outcomes of that legislation.
In Texas, the primary defense against pay-to-play lawmaking is the campaign finance moratorium. While it is touted in Austin as an effective strategy for limiting the influence of powerful entities on state policy, it’s a dam with plenty of leaks in it. The activity of lobbyists and media-driven organizations, for example, means lawmakers are already surrounded by people who are paid to influence their decisions.
Allowing politicians to legally accept contributions while the legislature is convened for a special session is just the most noteworthy of the “leaks.” When the moratorium is given so much credit for its effectiveness at staunching vote buying during the regular session, the lack of any similar regulation during these special sessions can seem jarring.
And with critical legislation that will impact how elections work and how district maps are set for the next decade in Texas, there are sure to be many powerful entities with a vested interest in the outcomes.
Join us for the latest campaign finance contributions to Texas state legislators as those reports become available this cycle. You can see who is giving, who is getting, and when each transaction occurred.