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Texas business lobbyists extend reach to Washington, pushing back on spending, EPA

Image by Matt Mahurin
Image by Matt Mahurin

One of Texas’ most influential lobbying groups has expanded its reach to Washington, taking its arguments against government spending and environmental regulation to a national stage.

The Texas Association of Business announced its new venture, dubbed the Texas Center for Federal Policy, at an August 17 press conference, the Austin American-Statesman reported, joined by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

As the Statesman’s Kate Alexander wrote, the new group is taking up issues — particularly Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security — that national small business groups hadn’t gotten involved in:

Texas’ small businesses have long been represented in Washington by the National Federation of Independent Business, which supports deficit reduction and opposes tax increases on small business. The group has not taken a position on entitlement reform.

[TAB President Bill] Hammond said the Texas-specific lobbying effort would harness the power of the state’s local chambers of commerce and businesses.

“The delegation wants to hear from the folks back home,” Hammond said.

“Our members have told us that a lot of the pain and suffering they are feeling today is emanating from Washington, D.C.,” Hammond said at the press conference (watch the video below).

Last week Hammond penned an op-ed piece urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to remove Texas from its new cross-state air pollution rule, taking up a cause already backed by Gov. Rick Perry, Texas environmental regulators and the conservative Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation. Hammond’s opinion piece came days after three Texas Railroad Commissioners sent a letter urging Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to take the EPA to court over the new rule.

While the EPA has said it’s determined Texas power plants can afford to make the necessary improvements without limiting the state’s power supply, a study by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas recently found otherwise.

Hammond’s op-ed argued the new rule wouldn’t just mean more expenses for a few big power plant operators, but would endanger Texas jobs — Texas coal, which burns dirtier than coal from some other parts of the country, would be at a disadvantage, he wrote:

When it comes to jobs let’s not forget the people who work in the mines producing Texas lignite coal to keep our lights on and all the other jobs this industry supports. There could be 14,000 Texas jobs at stake. Where will those folks go if the EPA dries up the market for Texas lignite? Many of these are rural jobs. The rural economy of Texas has been through enough in the ongoing drought without another blow like this.

The argument puts a small-business spin on an issue — the dangers of EPA regulation — that’s become popular among GOP leaders in both Texas and in Washington.

The group lays out its strategy in a pamphlet titled, “Washington Woes. Texas Solutions”:

In the coming months, the Texas Center for Federal Policy will rally like-minded organizations and elected officials from across the country around our message that meaningful entitlement reform is the only path to continued prosperity for our state and nation.

Over the last decade in Texas, the group has given almost exclusively to Republican candidates. In 2008, Hammond and TAB pled guilty and took a $10,000 fine for their improper role footing the bill for mass-mailing campaigns supporting Republican candidates in 2002, an effort connected to former House Speaker Tom DeLay’s other projects supporting GOP candidates with money from hidden sources.

As the Statesman noted in an editorial at the time, though, prosecutors’ failure to get a more serious indictment signaled the coming growth in corporate campaign money in Texas:

Hammond and his allies won the larger issue last year when a judge rejected an indictment against the Texas Association of Business in connection with the $1.7 million Hammond raised from 30 corporations to help 24 GOP House candidates.

For future campaigns, corporate executives will have to be careful, but as Hammond said Tuesday, the “right of corporations and associations to inform the public on how their elected officials represent them are completely upheld.”

The Texas Legislature enacted its first ban on corporate campaign contributions in 1905. Later, the rights of corporate and union executives and their supporters as individuals to make themselves heard was protected by the use of political action committees, which could collect voluntary personal campaign contributions — but not money from corporate or union treasuries.

But the courts in the Texas Association of Business case have held that corporations and unions have free speech rights that allow them to spend money on campaigns commenting on individual officeholders or candidates , as long as they don’t expressly advocate their election or defeat.

So, if you thought the Legislature was already dominated by business interests, just wait. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

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