If you're an astute observer of the Texas Legislature you know one of the stranger stories this session is the story of Senate Bill 346 by Senator Seliger.
This bill requires 501C(4)s (AKA SuperPACS) to disclose donor information. Currently they operate unchecked and unchallenged by regular campaign fundraising rules, and since the Citizens United these PACs have operated as fundraising mechanisms for candidates and other issue based campaigns.
One of the more notable PACs affected by SB 346 is Michael Quinn Sullivan's 501(c)4, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.
“?His 501(c)(4), Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, would be the most high-profile group required to disclose contributions under Seliger's measure. During the 2012 elections, “Empower Texans dba Texans for Fiscal Responsibility” spent $352,000 in Texas races, according to the state ethics commission. A full $333,000 of that money was spent during the primary cycle to support opponents to Speaker Joe Straus and those allied with him. None of these donors were disclosed.
(And Sullivan, as Texas Monthly's Nate Blakeslee noted in his profile of him in January, faced an ethics complaint filed by two Republican legislators last April that alleged he had acted as a lobbyist without registering as one.)”
Although the bill seemed to have far reaching implications and was ripe for debate and revision, SB 346 still moved along as a somewhat innocuous bill, until it passed through the whole Senate.
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Once Senator Dan Patrick noticed that this bill had somewhat slipped through his fingers, he did one of the more politically clunky maneuvers available to him and formally asked for the bill back from the House with SCR 33, which requested that “the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives be authorized to return Senate Bill No. 346 to the senate for further consideration.”
Senator Patrick openly admitted to not being present on the Senate Floor during the consideration of SB 346 and said that he felt so strongly over this issue that he felt the need to bring this resolution calling back the bill to Senate Floor the very next day. The debate on SCR 33 in the Senate was one of the more contentious ones this whole session. Senator Carona noted that this resolution (SCR 33) was probably not one the best ways to go about this and that if HB 346 was left alone, it would probably “take care of itself in the House” by either being amended to Senator Patrick's liking or simply dying.
The Senate had voted out SB 346 the previous day with 23 ayes and 6 nays, but SCR 33 managed to pass the same Senate the very next day, with 21 ayes and 10 nays.
When the Speaker's Office was asked about Senate Resolution asking for the bill back, the Speaker's office said that the House had not been notified of any such measure, and that the bill was in full procedural and parliamentary custody of House at that point in time (the day SCR 33 was passed).
Enter Representative Charlie Geren, one of the most respected and senior members of the Texas Legislature. Representative Geren, ignoring the SCR, brazenly sponsored the bill, and had it immediately set for a hearing in the House Committee on State Affairs. He notably told Quorum Report that, “Senator Patrick is welcome to come testify against the bill if he feels the need to.”
This set the stage for the “friction and fracture” that Senator Carona foreshadowed, and Sonia Smith with Texas Monthly reported on back in April. The fracture in the Republican ideologies and friction between the two chambers set the stage for a highly anticipated floor debate in the House.
Although the Senate somewhat unexpectedly and contentiously debated this issue, the House somewhat surprisingly passed the bill without any real bickering.
There were a few amendments attempted to be put onto the bill, but the debate was unremarkable and hardly quarrelsome. Representative Geren was skillful in avoiding these amendments to the bill. The most notable moment was not any debate, but when the unfazed Representative Geren directly called out Michael Quinn Sullivan on the House Floor for his aggressive and intimidating social media presence.
Since the bill was not amended the House side it did not have to go back to the Senate side to be approved of in a conference committee, so since there were no amendments added on the House side, the Senate had no more say in the matter, and the bill is now being sent directly to the Governor's desk.
Now SB 346, despite seeming to have all the likelihood in the world that it wouldn't pass is on the way to Governor's desk. As Harvey Kronberg reported on Quorum Report, the Governor actually has to sign or veto the bill by Saturday May 25th. The 83rd Legislative Session ends Monday May 27th.
While a veto of the bill is the most probable possibility, the odds of getting SB 346 passed through the legislature a month ago were not in its favor. While the veto would be the most probably outcome the most improbable one would be the override of the Governor's veto, which would be technically possible because the Legislature would be in session for two whole days after the Governor's deadline.
No matter what happens with the Governor, the passage of this bill through the legislature marks a pivotal note to this session compared to last. Last session Republicans represented a unified partisan front, passing poorly constructed ideologically guided bills, whereas this year the Republicans are split into varying factions passing genuinely thoughtful legislation guided primarily by good policy.
If this bill becomes law, there will be more transparency with regards to these large SuperPACs, at least in Texas, and we can all thank the one time hero but eternal underdog of the Texas Legislature, Charlie Geren.