News Column

Perry Vetoes 'Dark Money' Disclosure Bill

August 23, 2013
rick perry
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (file photo)

When Gov. Rick Perry vetoed Texas' version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, furious women across the state railed in dozens of emails to the governor's office.

And when Perry pulled the plug on a bill reducing the number of high-stakes exams in elementary and middle schools, concerned parents painted the governor as out of touch with the reality of the state's rigorous testing standards.

But when Perry's veto pen struck a death blow to the legislative session's most controversial campaign finance bill- a measure intended to bring "dark money" groups out of the political shadows -- he was showered mostly with praise from supporters who wrote to his office.

Perry's veto sparked nearly 40 pieces of individual correspondence on the bill to the governor's office, according to records released under the Texas Public Information Act.

Aside from his veto of the high-profile Lilly Ledbetter legislation, the dark money bill drew the second-most responses of any of Perry's roughly two-dozen vetoes.

Some Texans thanked him for "standing firm for freedom" and for "standing with conservative groups" by vetoing the disclosure bill.

A total of six wrote to oppose the veto.

"I am embarrassed that you have vetoed SB 346. Regardless of your justification," wrote John Delaney of Denton. "As a Republican who believes that there should be transparency in government and donors to a cause should be visible, I am disappointed that this is your first veto of the session."

Campaign fervor

Communications released to the San Antonio Express-News show how Perry largely took it on the chin from average Texans for most vetoes issued in June but was overwhelmingly applauded for axing a bill intended to require more political disclosure.

The correspondence provides a snapshot into the fervor the campaign finance bill generated during the regular session, at a time when the Obama administration was under intense scrutiny for the IRS' targeting of politically active conservative non-profits.

Groups in Texas that opposed the disclosure bill -- namely Michael Quinn Sullivan's Texans for Fiscal Responsibility -- used the IRS scandal to frame the legislation as a vendetta against conservative non-profits.

Perry's veto proclamation followed the same path, noting the IRS scandal and saying it would be "unconscionable to expose more Texans to the risk of such harassment, regardless of political, organizational or party."

The legislation would have required non-profits set up under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code to publicly disclose high-level donors.

The bill required such groups that spend more than $25,000 in a year on political activities to report donations of more than $1,000.

'Fence-walking clowns'

"The only way to keep our state strong and conservative is to expose the fence-walking clowns for what they are, and privatizing political donor information is one of the ways to do it. Thank you again and keep up the great work!" Ronnie Bemen, a Houston resident wrote to Perry's office in an email, calling the measure an "ill-contrived piece of garbage."

"Thanks for vetoing SB 346. It was junk, " Mike Welborn, an Odessa resident, wrote in another email. "The more conservative you get, the more I am glad I voted for you."

Supreme Court ruling

A 501(c)(4) can raise and spend unlimited sums from corporations, labor groups and deep-pocketed individual donors. But only super PACs are required to identify donors, leaving the nonprofits with the ability to cloak donors in anonymity.

The issue of big-dollar-donor disclosure has been a political lightning rod since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in the Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission.

It became a firestorm of controversy in the Legislature when a House-Senate duo of moderate Republicans successfully pushed the measure through both chambers. Perry made it his first veto of the session.

"A lot of the people misrepresented what was actually in the bill. The governor's veto even misrepresented what was in the bill, " said Rep. Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican and the sponsor of the House version of the disclosure bill.

"It'll be back. It'll the first bill I file for next session."

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