The Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) regularly requires officeholders, candidates, and PACs to report the money they’ve raised and spent during a specific time period. The first reporting period for 2017 started on January 1, 2017, and ends today, June 30, 2017. These reports are required, ostensibly, to ensure this information is available to citizens. However, a recent study by the Campaign Finance Institute found that the TEC’s website came in dead last among all 50 states in several measures. Users complained of confusing terminology and lack of confidence in search results. The website is difficult to navigate and the data is hard to interpret. That’s one reason we started Transparency Texas – to make it easier for citizens to follow the money in Texas politics.
Reporting periods at minimum occur semi-annually, the first concluding at the end of June each year and the second at the end of December. During primary and general election cycles though, other reports are required as well, including a “30 Day Report” (due 30 days before an election) and an “8 Day Report” (due eight days before an election).
Why do these reports matter?
These finance filings show information that can be incredibly useful to citizens. The reports reveal donations and the donors who made them. Voters can find out who is supporting which candidates and at what level. Is a politician in the pocket of a handful of powerful donors? Does a PAC that’s always boasting about being powered by the grassroots really get their financial support from people across Texas?
Seeing where a politician spends his or her money – and how much of it – can also be quite revealing. Do I really want to vote for a candidate who spends campaign dollars on lavish gifts, expensive trips, or costly consultants? This PAC says their mission is to turn Texas blue, so why would they give to Republicans?
These financial reports can help citizens understand which politicians truly represent their values.
This reporting period in particular:
The June semi-annual report is important for many officeholders, candidates, and PACs for a litany of reasons, but a few stick out.
First, since the 85th legislative session just ended, the moratorium, or ban, on campaign donations also ended. Typically, a flood of money will pour into campaign accounts, especially from lobbyists. Lobbyists like to reward politicians who performed as they wished during the session.
Second, in politics, money is power. One of the key indicators of strength for an officeholder or candidate is how much money they’re able to raise. If an incumbent doesn’t have much money, he or she is more likely to draw a challenger in the next election. If a candidate who is challenging an incumbent has been able to raise a decent amount of money, the incumbent might start to get worried. Dollars equal power, and this first report after the legislative session shows just how powerful many legislators and candidates are, or are not.
The bottom line:
Combing through campaign finance information can be difficult and boring, especially on the Texas Ethics Commission’s user-unfriendly website. But the information is highly valuable to citizens. That’s why we’ve worked to clean up Texas campaign finance data and present it in a way that’s useful to you.
Information from the June semi-annual report is due from officeholders, candidates, and PACs to the Texas Ethic Commission by Monday, July 17, 2017. As soon as that information is available, Transparency Texas will work to make it available to you in an easy-to-use and easy-to-understand format.
Our How It Works series pulls back the curtain on the inter-workings of state government by identifying who’s involved, defining what they do, and explaining the motivations behind their actions.