House sends donor disclosure bill to Gov. Perry

WILL WEISSERT,Associated Press



AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A proposal requiring politically active nonprofits to publicly disclose their major donors cleared the Texas Legislature on Tuesday, despite repeated attempts by conservative lawmakers to kill it and mounting pressure on Gov. Rick Perry to veto it.

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Supporters say Senate Bill 346 will crack down on “dark money,” or contributions secretly made to groups that avoid campaign finance and disclosure laws because of their nonprofit status. Those opposed argue it violates free speech.

Perry has not said if he will sign the measure, which becomes law if he takes no action. But conservative groups took to social media even before the bill had passed the Legislature to urge a veto.

The proposal, originated in the Senate, mandates that certain politically active nonprofits divulge their top donors, just as candidates and other political organizations do already. It only applies to groups that spend more than $25,000 on political activities and would not require making public donors who give less than $1,000.

Its House sponsor, Fort Worth Republican and House Administration Committee Chairman Charlie Geren, fought off repeated attempts to amend the bill before the House approved the bill 95-52.

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“We’re not trying to shut anybody down,” Geren said of nonprofits. “We’re just trying to get them to disclose who their donors are.”

The measure has faced stiff opposition from the Legislature’s most conservative lawmakers, but Democrats and moderate Republicans say it will increase transparency.

The bill excludes labor unions — a point of contention among some Republicans. But unions are already barred from engaging directly in political activities, and instead must form political action committees to influence policy.

Tea party-backed Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, argued Tuesday that while the bill is well-intentioned, it could have the unintended consequence of bringing unnecessary attention to donors trying to remain apolitical.

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“I think we’re getting into a very dangerous field,” Krause said.

When the Senate first approved the proposal, so many grassroots groups bristled that tea party-backed Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston took the unusual step of trying to recall it — saying he and other colleagues didn’t realize what they were voting on.

That effort failed since the House had already begun work on the measure. It first made it to the floor Monday for an initial vote, where it survived repeated attempts to alter its language by tea party-backed Republicans.

Even slight modifications would have effectively killed the bill since they would have sent it to conference committee, where there wouldn’t be enough time to reconcile the House and Senate versions before the session ends May 27.

The most-vocal opponent has been Michael Quinn Sullivan, head of the limited-government advocacy group Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, who said of the bill, “This is a way for powerful politicians to threaten and intimidate donors to organizations that call them out.”