Lawmakers accepting donations during special session in a ‘gray area’

Texas State Capitol (Nexstar Photo)
Texas State Capitol (Nexstar Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The day after the start to the special session, there are concerns about the way Texas lawmakers are raising money for their campaigns. Right now they’re collecting political donations at the same time they’re trying to pass new laws.

The practice is not normally allowed, but special sessions are different.

The Texas Election Code prohibits lawmakers from accepting any campaign contributions in and around the regular legislative session. The idea being to keep contributions out of sight and out of mind as big decisions are being made. The key is the law says “regular” session. It states nothing about the special session.

“It’s not a loophole but I guess you could say it’s a gray area at least that allows them to accept contributions at this time,” Andrew Cates, author of “Texas Ethics Laws” told KXAN. “A lot of people have always been concerned about the influence on money on politics.”

Cates says campaigning during the special sessions is nothing new. It just doesn’t get a lot of attention because special sessions aren’t frequent.

“We haven’t had a special session in four years,” Cates said.

Once the 20-day ban on accepting campaign contributions after a regular legislative session is up, Cates said legislators are typically like horses out of the starting gate.

“All these legislators and candidates are under a lot of pressure to start fundraising immediately,” he said, as they’re under pressure to keep their seat at the table.

But some, like Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, are resisting the temptation.

“You know, there’s a time for politics and there’s a time for policy. And right now I think our job is to be here, working on policy and trying to do what’s best for our constituents and for all Texans,” Moody said. “I don’t begrudge anybody their ability to do it, it’s just not something that I plan on doing during the special session.”

Gov. Greg Abbott says it’s something each legislator has to make their own call on.

“It’s important that we avoid any type of conflict of interest, but the reason why the law exists the way that it does is because otherwise, as governor, I could keep legislators in special session all the way up until election and they wouldn’t ever to go out and be able to campaign,” Abbott said.

“It’s an imperfect system and one I don’t think there’s an easy solution for,” Moody told KXAN.

KXAN reached out to several lawmakers going ahead with fundraising during the special session, but have yet to receive a response.

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