In Texas politics, the real financial powerhouse is not the money given by individuals and political action committees (PACs) — it’s lobbying. In fact, in the last election cycle, the money spent on lobbying exceeded all money donated to Texas candidates and PACs by more than $100,000,000.
What might be even more surprising is that contributions by private citizens are under much more scrutiny than activity by lobbyists. To be clear, the issue here is not whether citizens or businesses should be able to spend their own money to influence lawmakers. Nor are we suggesting that lobbying in itself is wrong. The issue is whether professional lobbyists are held to the same standard as private citizens — and they’re not.
Candidates and PACs must report every dollar given to them. And if a donor gives more than $90, the candidate must report the donor’s name, address and employer, as well as the date and amount. Lobbyists, on the other hand, may choose to report their prospective lobbying contracts (before any lobbying has actually been done) without amending them to show actual dollars earned. Lobbyists are also allowed to report their income in ranges.
As for the amounts the lobbyists spend to wine, dine, and entertain politicians, even those reports are fuzzy. Under Texas law, lobbyists are only required to file detailed reports (names of lawmakers and specifics on spending) when those costs exceed 60 percent of the lawmaker’s per diem ($221). In other words, a lobbyist can spend up to $132.60 on a lawmaker each day without having to report it. If a lobbyist takes four legislators to dinner or a game, he or she can spend more than $530 without having to file a report. If two lobbyists happen to be there, they can spend more than $1,000 on those legislators without voters ever knowing. Lobbyists’ reports of their spending on politicians are so imprecise that they are practically useless.
Politicians often sanctimoniously call for limits on donations from individuals and refuse to accept donations from corporate PACs. But when was the last time you heard those same politicians, once elected, advocating for limits on lobbying or calling for more transparency on the gifts they’ve been given by a lobbyist?
At Transparency Texas, our mission is to make it easy for citizens to find the answers they need about money in Texas politics. We started by making it easy to see and search political dollars — who is giving, who is getting, and how they are spending those dollars. Now we’ve brought that same transparency to lobbying. With our ground-breaking Lobbying Data feature, Texans can now apply the same level of scrutiny to the money spent on lobbying.