Opening the Financial Floodgates: Money and the Special Session
Once every two years when the Texas Legislature is in session for 140 days, all legislators in the Capitol, along with statewide elected officials, are subject to a moratorium on accepting political contributions. This policy was enacted to prevent the conflict of interest that would inevitably arise should lobbyists and other special interest groups be allowed to donate to lawmakers while they are voting on specific bills. In other words, the moratorium on political donations is intended to avoid the appearance (and reality) of buying votes.
The moratorium begins 30 days before the regular legislative session and ends 20 days after its conclusion. For the 85th Legislative Session which recently concluded, the moratorium period began on December 11, 2016, and will end on June 18, 2017.
Immediately following the moratorium, numerous donations will be made to legislators. In other words, the floodgates will open. Lobbyists in Austin are usually the first to “reward” those lawmakers who voted with them during the session by contributing to their campaign accounts, thus bolstering those lawmakers’ reelection efforts. Other interest groups and major political donors enter the fray as well, making sure their favored lawmakers have sufficient financial capital for the upcoming election season.
As the 85th Legislative Session came to a close, conventional wisdom around the Capitol said Governor Greg Abbott would call a special session – essentially a 30 day extension — to complete any business that wasn’t finished during the regular session but is important to the Governor.
Yesterday afternoon, Governor Abbott did indeed call a special session to begin July 18, 2017. He listed 20 legislative items “on the call,” which means they may be brought up for consideration.
What you need to know about the money in the special session:
1.The current fundraising moratorium still ends at midnight on June 18, 2017. The special session does not extend the moratorium, which means lawmakers will be able to begin raising money in less than two weeks.
2. When lawmakers do come back to Austin on July 18, 2017, to begin the special session, there will be no new moratorium placed on political gifts. This means legislators can — and likely will — receive money from those who have a vested interest in whether a bill passes.
Bottom Line: The primary defense against pay-to-play lawmaking, the donation moratorium, won’t be in effect during the special session. Legislators will be in the Capitol, surrounded by people paid to influence legislation who also just so happen to have some of the deepest pockets in the state. The floodgates of political giving will surely open in June, and the deluge will increase when lawmakers are back in Austin in July.
You can count on Transparency Texas to keep an eye on the money passing hands during this time. As always, we will be making it easy for you to see where the money is coming from, which politicians are getting it, and what they do with it. Now you can see who might be trying to influence legislation and know who is really on your side.
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.