By Anna Thompson
In its most basic terms, campaign finance is the soliciting and using of funds to influence a political decision, such as a referendum or a candidate’s election. Candidates must disclose any sizable contributions that were made to use the funds for political purposes, and both monetary and in-kind contributions are required.
These reports must be filed twice a year in the state of Texas with the Texas Ethics Commission – and four times during election years.
Candidates are fined by the TEC if they fail to file their reports as well, however, they don’t actually have much power when it comes to collection.
So, politicians and campaigns have to report how much money they’re given. Why is that important? It’s one of the driving forces that keep politicians in Texas at least somewhat transparent about their politics and motives to get elected to office. Campaign finance reports outline the amount of funding a campaign receives and how it is allocated. Additionally, the public can see from the reports who is backing which candidates.
Ideally, the fact that campaign finances are public should help quell corruption.
Things like corrupt bargaining would be easy for the public to spot and call out, but that isn’t always the case. The TEC’s hand in stopping corruption within campaign finance isn’t always that helpful – Sometimes the candidate just lacks the funds to pay, and other times the commission is unable to locate the delinquent filer. In addition, after a fine reaches $1,000, it is often the responsibility of the state attorney general’s office to collect it.
In addition, there are also groups that are barred from donating to campaign finances completely. Corporations, and labor organizations, along with federal government contractors, and foreign nationals are banned.
The rules behind these restrictions are kind of murky, however, especially when it comes to corporations.
A corporation can’t donate – but that doesn’t mean the owner of the corporation can’t donate. The owner can use profits from their company to donate, so long as the money is coming from a separate, personal account, rather than a business account. The same is true for a labor organization. A doctor’s office that operates as an LLC (basically a company run by 2+ people) may not make a joint donation, but each owner can instead make an individual donation in their own name from a personal account. So when looking at the names of individual donors on campaign finance lists, there is a likelihood that they could be business owners donating to protect their own interests.
Moreover, federal government contractors, and foreign nationals can’t contribute to campaigns, as there could be interference using insider information, or donations to push the agenda of a country other than the USA. Donations made in the name of another person are also not allowed.
As an individual, campaign finances are specifically meant to help one figure out if the candidate or policy that you’re supporting will actually do what local politicians are claiming it will do. The use of campaign reporting websites to see where a politician is getting their money is important, especially so one can see what kind of people are supporting a specific candidate. Because of this, campaign finance reports can be used so one can find out who is trying to influence their vote.