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Texas law requires candidates to file only their donors' full name and address, the contribution amount, and the date of the donation. (Many candidates can't even swing this minimal information: District 5 City Councilman David Garcia, a lawyer, omitted 21 donors' names from a campaign finance report, and when he filed his correction, recorded only first initial and last name, also a violation. Also-ran mayoral candidate Tim Bannwolf, again, a lawyer, filed his final report without full names.)

Without listing donors' occupation and employer, it is difficult, and in some cases impossible, to trace financial influence from donor to candidate to vote; obfuscation is the goal of the law's loophole.

Although critics of additional disclosures complain that gathering the information requires too much work, 29 states have employer and occupation disclosure laws. Federal candidates have been required to file this information since 1979. Even in Texas, judges at the district court level and above have been doing it for more than five years.

A proposed bill would require candidates to include occupation and employer on their filings; it would also mandate that candidates use electronic filing. Currently, the law states that candidates don't have to file electronically if they sign an affidavit swearing they don't use a computer to track campaign contributions and expenses. Apparently, Texas politicians are on the wrong side of the digital divide: In 2000, 54 percent of Texas candidates slipped through the electronic loophole. In this election, 38 percent claimed the exemption.

During the 2001 session, state Representative Pete Gallego (D-Alpine) and state Senator Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) rushed to release their versions of disclosure bills — to save face and appear responsible. The Senate bill passed unanimously in late February, but the House version was delayed until mid-April, and representatives voted on a final version that had been gutted of the occupation and employer requirements. (Ironically, there is no record of the vote.) The Senate and House bills died in conference committee.

It blew up on the last day and shocked everybody, said Fred Lewis of Campaigns for People, who met with legislators to try to hammer out a stricter version of the bill. They think it's too burdensome.

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October 20, 2021

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