I am NOT attempting to pass myself off as an expert on Texas campaign finance law. I did have a conversation with someone who is. I think the best way to write this is a Q and A format:
Q. Can an officeholder make contributions directly from his campaign funds to other candidates?
A. Yes. Craddick could have given the $50,000 directly to Kevin Bailey, Kino Flores, and Aaron Pena.
Q. Why didn’t he? Wasn’t he trying to conceal what he was doing?
A. Quite to the contrary; he was trying to publicize it. He wanted to signal potential contributors that JOBS PAC was the vehicle he was using to get members of his team reelected. It worked. The PAC has received somewhere between $100,000-$200,000 in additional funding over the $250,000 contributed by Craddick.
Q. Why didn’t Craddick make contributions from his Stars Over Texas PAC?
A. Its purpose is to make contribution to Republican candidates in the general election. Stars Over Texas can’t be used to support Democrats or Republican primary candidates.
Q. How did the managers of the PAC know who to send the money to?
A. Presumably, Craddick told them. It is legal to earmark contributions for a PAC to give to specific candidates.
Q. But isn’t coordination between donors and PACS involving the use of contributions illegal?
A. Not in Texas. Coordination is a concept that exists in federal law. It is forbidden in federal campaigns because coordination could be used to get around limits on contributions. Texas has no limits (except in judicial races).
Q. Why did Craddick go to the trouble of resurrecting a dormant PAC? Was he trying to cover his tracks?
A. Texas law requires PACs to be in existence for 60 days before they can accept donations. This requirement became law after Democratic power broker and rancher Clinton Manges set up a dozen or more PACs in the 1980s, then funneled money from one to the next to avoid detection until after a race was decided.
Q. Well, then, is there anything illegal about the Craddick donations?
A. Only if there was legislative bribery. For example, if the PAC says, you can have the money, but you have to support Craddick.
This is my understanding of how the law works. I want to throw in a lot of caveats. (1) To repeat, I don’t claim to know the law, only to be able to interview people who claim to know the law. (2) The statutes are not always clear. Sometimes it seems as if they were written not to be clear. (3) As a general rule, Republicans tend to interpret the law to allow more questionable conduct than Democrats do. This is because Republicans are in power. As soon as Democrats get in power, they will interpret the rules more liberally and Republicans will be the strict constructionists. (4) The Speaker’s statute raises a whole new set of issues that lie outside the general rules for members. I have had conversations about the statute, but I don’t understand it well enough to write about it. Some parts are very difficult to enforce.