FEATURED: On Friday, September 1, 2023, a new state law went into effect that requires all political subdivisions to post on their website all campaign finance reports filed on or after September 1, 2023, according to attorney Omar Ochoa. “Campaign finance reports are public documents, but for many people who wanted to review or make copies of that crucial information, they had to go to the government building where they were located, such as a city hall or courthouse, reveal their identity to government officials to get that material, and pay for any copies of that report,” said attorney Omar Ochoa. “But a couple of months ago, a new state law – which was led by and supported by the Valley’s state legislative delegation – changed all of that.”
Photograph By JOHANA ZARATE
Campaign finance reports at local and regional levels in Texas now available through the Internet for free while protecting the identity of any person seeking such information about political figures
Campaign finance reports show how much money is coming into a political campaign, who is giving it, and how that money is being spent on who and for what, according to “Campaign finance for dummies: A Guide to Texas election reporting rules”, published by The Texas Tribune on February 1, 2018.
“The sunlight on these contributions helps to combat the threat of corruption,” Jerad Najvar, an attorney at a Houston-based law firm that specializes in campaign finance and constitutional law, told The Texas Tribune. “If everybody is going to see where a candidates’ money is coming from, it’s very hard to hide some kind of corrupt bargain.”
On Friday, September 1, 2023, a new state law – which was approved by Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday, June 13, 2023 – went into effect that requires all political subdivisions to post on their website all campaign finance reports filed on or after September 1, 2023, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.
Previously, only Texas counties with a population of 800,000 or more or municipalities with a population of 500,000 or more were required to post campaign finance reports on their respective websites.
“Campaign finance reports are public documents, but for many people who wanted to review or make copies of that crucial information, they had to go to the government building where they were located, such as a city hall or courthouse, reveal their identity to government officials to get that material, and pay for any copies of that report,” said attorney Omar Ochoa. “But a couple of months ago, a new state law – which was led and supported by the Valley’s state legislative delegation – changed all of that.”
That measure, House Bill 2626, required that campaign reports now must be posted within 10 business days of receipt and remain on the political subdivision’s website for five years after the report is first made available.
The political subdivision may redact (remove) the address (other than city, state and zip code) of any contributor before posting the report on its website.
However, the address information removed must remain available on the report maintained in the authority’s office.
Ochoa is an advocate for transparency in government, and provides regular reports to the public on federal, state, and local laws that impact journalism, communications, freedom of speech issues, and transparency in government.
An Edinburg native, he is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin as well as the UT School of Law.
Ochoa was the first Latino/Mexican American to serve as student body president, and the first Hispanic to serve as Editor-in-Chief of the Texas Law Review at the law school.
Ochoa, who serves as City Attorney for the City of Edinburg, noted that his hometown has been a leader and a symbol of open government f0r many years, including in the posting of campaign finance reports for local municipal races.
“Edinburg’s city website has maintained campaign finance reports since at least 2019 – a full five years before the Texas Legislature and the governor approved House Bill 2626, which according to the Texas Ethics Commission, created the new Internet posting requirement that applies to all entities that receive campaign finance reports, including counties, cities, school districts, hospital districts, utility districts, water districts, and so on,” said Ochoa.
Any person with access to the Internet may view and download campaign finance reports for incumbents and candidates for the Edinburg City Council, including for mayor, at:
Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was a cosponsor of House Bill 2626, which means he was one of the legislative leaders in the Texas Senate to help carry the measure through that legislative chamber.
“I cosponsored House Bill 2626 because I support transparency and believe it’s important for everyone to know where money comes from in political campaigns. This law now requires all government entities to publish campaign finance reports on their websites,” said Hinojosa. “This allows anyone from the public to easily find and review these reports. Having easy access to these reports is important because it helps the voters make informed decisions when they vote and it keeps candidates and officeholders accountable for how they use money in campaigns. This law helps strengthen our democratic process.”
As cosponsor, Hinojosa joined with Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, to guide the measure through the Texas Senate.
Perry was the sponsor of House Bill 2626.
As sponsor, Perry was the main lawmaker who led that bill through the Senate after the House of Representatives had approved it.
The author of House Bill 2626 was Rep. Carl Tepper, R-Lubbock.
As the author, Tepper was the state legislator – also known as the primary author – who filed House Bill 2626 and guided it through the legislative process.
“Filed” is used to refer to a measure that has been introduced into the legislative process and given a number.
Rep. Jeff Leach, R-McKinney, joined Tepper – with Tepper’s permission – as an author of House Bill 2626. In that role, Leach helped Tepper guide House Bill 2626 through the House of Representatives.
For several decades, a state agency known as the Texas Ethics Commission has maintained and made accessible campaign finance reports for individuals directly involved at the state level.
As a result of a statewide vote in 1991, the campaign finance reports for officeholders and candidates for statewide office and the Texas Legislature, among other professions and entities, are required to be submitted to, and maintained by, the Texas Ethics Commission for the main purpose of increasing confidence by the public in its elected leaders at the highest levels in state government.
The purpose of House Bill 2626 was to bring such transparency to campaign finance reports at the local levels of government.
A bill is a type of legislative measure that requires passage by the House of Representatives and the Senate and action by the governor in order to become effective. A bill is the primary means used to create and change the laws of the state.
Texans have expressed concerns regarding the difficulty of obtaining campaign finance reports for candidates who file with entities other than the Texas Ethics Commission, Tepper explained in the bill analysis of House Bill 2626.
A bill analysis is a document prepared for all bills and joint resolutions reported out of legislative committee.
A bill analysis may include background information on the measure, a statement of purpose or intent, and an analysis of the content of the measure.
“In order to increase transparency, all political subdivisions that accept campaign finance reports from candidates should be required to make such reports publicly accessible online,” Tepper stated. “House Bill 2626 seeks to address this issue by requiring any political subdivision that receives campaign finance reports to make the reports publicly available on a website and maintain the report online for at least five years.
Other key provisions of House Bill 2626 are:
• House Bill 2626 amends (changes) Section 254.0401, Election Code, by adding Subsections (b), (e-1), and (h), as follows:
(b) Requires the clerk or secretary of a political subdivision’s governing body or, if the governing body does not have a clerk or secretary, the governing body’s presiding officer to make a report filed with the political subdivision by a candidate, officeholder, or specific-purpose committee under Subchapter B (Political Reporting Generally) available to the public on the political subdivision’s Internet website not later than the 10th business day after the date the report is received;
(e-1) Authorizes the authority with whom the report is filed, before making the report available on the Internet as required by Subsection (b), to remove each portion, other than city, state, and zip code, of the address of a person listed as having made a political contribution to the person filing the report. Requires that the address information removed remain available on the report maintained in the authority’s office; and
(h) Requires that a report made available on an Internet website under Section 254.0401 (Availability of Reports on Internet) be accessible on that website until the fifth anniversary of the date the report is first made available.
For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).