Recent attacks on my record by a group that bills itself as Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility include a number of disingenuous distortions. Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility is an Austin group that has organized as a non-profit corporation, that purports to operate in an “advocacy” capacity when in-fact, they lobby for the outcome of specific legislative measures during legislative sessions.
Michael Quinn Sullivan, on behalf of this organization, sends out regular email notifications to members of the Texas Legislature regarding bills that will be considered on the House floor that day. The notifications read in part: “On the Calendar for (day/date), are several bills that could be considered on the Fiscal Responsibility Index. This e-mail is sent as a courtesy, reflecting what has been posted to our website. We will positively consider: (list of bill numbers). We will negatively consider: (list of bill numbers).” This is lobbying in its most basic form. Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility has used their non-profit status to circumvent the reporting requirements that all other lobbying groups must abide by, as such, their practices are currently under investigation by the Texas Ethics Commission.
It should be noted that each session there are thousands of Record Votes taken in the House of Representatives. During the 83rd Regular Session and the three subsequent Special Sessions, a total of 1,516 Record Votes were cast, yet the so called “Fiscal Responsibility Index” used only 74 of those votes in their calculations. Many of the votes taken are on amendments to major pieces of legislation, and when taken out of context, can be manipulated to make any member of the legislature appear in a positive or negative light, depending on the desired outcome. Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility does just that. They provide a piece of information without providing the context of the entire measure under consideration.
The following is the full context of the votes I made as they relate to the piece you received in the mail. I would like to provide you with all the information to give you the complete picture of what was at stake.
“VOTED TO INCREASE LEGISLATORS’ PENSIONS”
Legislative pensions are coupled to judicial salaries, meaning an increase in one leads to an increase in the other. This practice was established prior to my service in the legislature. Judicial salaries had not been increased since 2005. SB 1, the budget, increased judicial salaries. In voting for SB1, the budget, I didn’t have the option to vote yes on some parts and no on others. It is an up or down vote. I did not couple judicial salaries with legislative pensions, and even voted to de-couple them. (Record Vote 988 to SB 1459)
“ENABLED POLITICAL INTIMIDATION OF CONSERVATIVES”
No such legislation was ever filed. The legislation referenced is Senate Bill 346. SB 346 would close a loophole in existing political contribution reporting requirements and ensure that all entities spending money to influence elections were treated the same. Currently, certain nonprofit 501(c)(4) organizations that spend more than $25,000 in political expenditures every year, but don’t qualify as a PAC, don’t have to report their political expenditures. These organizations have become increasingly powerful and have begun spending more since the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010). They should be subject to the same reporting requirements as other political organizations. The bill would provide transparency. The organizations that would be affected by the bill make large campaign contributions and have no provisions for transparency. Disclosing funding sources of major campaign efforts would create a more informed electorate and help voters weigh the importance of the source and discern the validity of information.
The organization that attacked me in the mail does not disclose its donors. It is worth noting that one of its founding members sitting on its board is a wealthy individual in Midland. Why should someone in Midland be allowed to try and buy a House seat in Houston, and not even have to disclose it?
“PUT ADMINISTRATORS AHEAD OF STUDENTS”
Wrong. This amendment to the budget stated that money appropriated to the Texas Education Agency cannot be appropriated to non-public schools. We have excellent public schools in District 134, and the overwhelming majority of constituents who contacted me on public education issues did not want taxpayer dollars being diverted to private schools that lack the same accountability standards as public schools.
“FUNDED CORPORATE WELFARE PROGRAMS”
Not really. This was an amendment to abolish the Texas Enterprise Fund in the Governor’s Office. It was tabled, and thus not voted directly on. Furthermore, attacking me on this issue is really an attack on our conservative governor, who created the Texas Enterprise Fund to attract jobs and business relocations to Texas. In fact, one of the grants benefitted research at M.D. Anderson in our district. Money that flows for cancer research is not corporate welfare – it benefits the public welfare.
I was elected to represent the residents of District 134, and I take that responsibility very seriously. Every vote I make is with the best interests of my constituents in mind, not to further the political agenda of any organization or group. If Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility give me an “F: rating because I refuse to be bullied into voting lock-step with their positions, that is their prerogative. I stand by my votes and will continue to do my best to represent the values of our community.