Today is a campaign Texas campaign finance filing deadline. Twice a year (and certain dates surrounding an election), everyone running for office, holding office, or ran for office and who still maintains an account of contributions, has to file their campaign disclosures. With a primary fast approaching it can help undecided voters see who is supporting who with their wallets.
Almost all candidates for any office talk about transparency and open government, but few actually point people in its direction or make is easy to find. Sure, courtrooms are open to the public, but do you know anyone who just goes downtown to watch trials? Same thing for CSPAN or spending hours online reading the federal register; its all there in plain sight, but who really pays that close attention?
That is what I want to do with this post, shed some light on campaign finances, particularly for judicial candidates, and point you to the links you need to find out all you want to know.
Most people are not aware that there are few campaign finance limits in Texas. In fact, with the general exception of corporate and union money, individual candidates can accept as much as they want from anyone or any PAC. If you wanted to give a million bucks to a state representative race, you can. Judicial candidates however have voluntary restrictions on how much we can collect and spend during a campaign and from individual people and law firms.
When I first filed my paperwork to run for judge back in the spring, there was one paper that was totally voluntary to fill out, “The Judicial Campaign Fairness Act” pledge. By signing this (and I did), a candidate limits themselves to how much they can spend and accept.
Today, I filed my campaign report that covers July 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011. The law requires that I list every dime collected and spent and provide the name, address and employment information for all donations over $50. By looking at a candidate’s reports, you can see where the money is coming from and where it is going. You can see if their financial support is composed of small grassroots donations s or has a few large backers.
In the circle of people who get all excited over things like this, there is a big debate on the balance between you 1st Amendment right to give whatever to whomever and the “transparency” of elections. My preference would be to loosen, if not eliminate the restrictions, but as a tradeoff, make reporting more frequent and with stronger penalties for hiding information. But, I’m not running for the legislature, so I will follow the law…just like a good judge should!
I want you to look at my and other candidates’ reports; not to see who has the most money, but to see where their support is coming from, to see what is really required to run a campaign and how much a campaign costs. I also want to show those of you who didn’t know where to look, just how easy it is to find it.
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