Saturday, July 15, 2006

Special interests in Texas paying for Speaker Craddick's capitol building apartment

Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick has a taxpayer-provided apartment right inside the state's domed Capitol, the nation's only residence in any statehouse, and according to the AP, several lobbyists and business interests have contributed more than $1 million to renovate the 2,000-square-foot apartment behind the House chamber.

In a letter to potential donors, Craddick and his wife, Nadine, say the renovation is a "gift to all Texans" that will let the speaker's residence "reflect the same attention to detail that is seen throughout the Capitol."

But watchdog groups say people and businesses that could benefit from future legislation should not pay to spruce up the taxpayer-provided home of the man who controls the destiny of proposed state laws...

The contributors to the renovation project are regular Craddick donors and supporters of historic preservation, DeLee said. Asked if donors could expect any favors in exchange for their contribution, she said: "Absolutely not."

The donor list, however, includes some who may have a stake in the outcome of the 2007 legislative session or who scored big victories when lawmakers met in 2005.

The AT&T Foundation, for example, donated $250,000. Last year, the Legislature made it easier for phone and other companies to offer cable-like services. Maxxam Inc., which wants to offer video gambling at its horse and dog tracks in Houston and Harlingen, gave $25,000.

It's easy to see how there is a conflict of interest here, but as the article states, the donations are considered a gift to the state and the checks are being sent to the State Preservation Board, which maintains the Capitol, and thus they are not subject to campaign finance laws.

But this is really just an extreme sympton of problems we've long had in Texas with our office-holders taking large sums from special interests. You might think that goes for all states, and it does, but it's especially bad in Texas.

See, our legislators aren't paid enough to even live. A Texas Senator makes 7,000 dollars a year! Obviously they have to have other income, so this creates two problems. First, only candidates who are already well-0ff - because they are businessmen or lawyers usually - run for office (and have a chance of winning). Not teachers and others who serve our communities. Secondly, our office holders take money from special interests to supplement their salaries. This should be prohibited completely, but it's not because the people who could pass the laws and run the ethics commission are already beholden to these interests.

Most people agree on campaign finance reform, but it's hard to get people to agree to increase the incomes of legislators, but people need to realize this would actually benefit our government and our democracy because good, average people could actually run and become legislators, not just those who are special interests or beholden to them. I'd gladly pay these people more if it meant that because I'd rather have legislators paid a lot than have lavish, million-dollar apartments in the state capitol in return for supporting legislation favoring whoever is fitting the bill.

Wouldn't you?


Nat-Wu said...

Well, it sounds reasonable, but back when Texas was brought into the US, you know we didn't trust professional politicians. And you can hardly blame people for still not liking professional politicians when they have the example of the national government. But it's true that we need to open the field up to people who couldn't normally afford it by themselves. Besides which, it wouldn't take much of a tax increase to pay all our legislators $50,000 a year.

Xanthippas said...

I do agree that they need to make more. I know that people in general, and Texans especially, hate to pay politicians anything, and that we think that everyone ought to be volunteering their time for free as citizens of the state. But that's just not tenable. Next time somebody bitches about pay, or about the quality of our Texas legislature, ask them how any "regular" person like a teacher, a cop or a firefigher is supposed to go down there and do it themselves when it means quitting your job, working part-time and making $7000 a year!