Lobbying in Texas

Texans For Public Justice recetnly released their biennial report on lobbying in Texas: Austin’s Oldest Profession. As usual, TPJ has made a copy of their full report available online so you can read over the details of their latest analysis.

TPJ compiles data collected by the Texas Ethics Commission. Because TEC reporting requirements generally don’t require firms to report the exact amount of lobbying contracts (instead they report a general range) TPJ’s data is  imprecise. However, they remain one of the few sources on lobbying data in the state.

According to TPJ organized interests have doubled their lobbying expenditures in Texas over the last 10 years. Despite the heroic spending efforts of these organized interests Texas fell from 2nd place to 4th place in 2006. However, Texans can take heart since the Legislature was not in session in 2006 and we can expect to climb in the rankings as soon as 2007 results are in from across the nation.

One interesting exercise is looking over who is spending what in Texas. Overall, “energy and natural resources” interests accounted for about 17% of the up to $348 million spent on lobbying in Texas in 2007. The report details the companies and groups that have spent a million dollars or more. The 31 “Million Dollar Clients” cited in the report are dominated by the communications industry and energy interests as well as legal/lobbying firms. AT&T leads the pack with as much as $10 million spent.  Some Texans might be surprised to see the cities of Austin and Houston in the million dollar club.

The thirty-page report is loaded with facts and figures and students and faculty are likely to find their political heros and villians represented.

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Early Voting — The Hard Way?

As the November general election draws closer, students become increasingly interested in elections.  The deadline for registering for the November election is October 6. 

Texas adopted No Excuses Early Voting in the late 1980s as a method of encouraging voter turnout.  In effect, the state has reduced the costs associated with voting by giving Texans more opportunities to vote. 

Recently, the Nacogdoches County Commissioner’s Court voted to open satellite voting locations in the county.  Each location will be open for one or two days during the early voting period of October 20 – October 31.  Locations include the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University and several outlying towns in rural parts of the county.  The decision was not without controversy.  Objections raised to the satellite locations included the cost to the county, which may reach as much as $3000.  Another objection was that voting in an election is a right, not a privilege; therefore, citizens should be expected to work and to sacrifice to vote and not be handed an opportunity to vote at their convenience.  In addition, there were two objections specific to having early voting on the university campus.  The campus location was seen as too close to the county courthouse; the courthouse is a mile from campus.  Despite the fact that the university is the largest employer in the county and that the early voting location is open to all community residents, some people complained that students were being given preferential treatment.

Here are some ideas to discuss with your students:
Where are the early voting locations in your county?  Is early voting only at the county courthouse or do other locations exist? Does your campus have a polling place for the general election or an early voting location? Given the low voter turnout among younger voters (See Table 7.2 on page 192 of the book), is an early voting location on a college campus a good idea? Are students being treated differently? What determined the early voting locations in your county? More generally, is early voting a good idea? Or, should citizens be expected to work or sacrifice to vote? If the latter is true, what are the implication for democratic theory and for representative government?

Federalism at its finest

In its last session, the Texas legislature passed a program designed to promote traditional marriage by encouraging couples to get premarital counseling.  As of September 1st, the cost of a marriage license was raised significantly, but engaged couples can get a $60 discount and forgo the 3 day waiting period if they complete an approved eight hour course on pre-marital counseling.   The $16 million program will be funded from Federal TANF funds.