Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Bills for Money

 Some have said I am cursed with a long memory.  One of my memories is a scandal which took place in the Texas Legislature in the 1950's.  A group of naturopaths uncovered a scam which had been going on for several years.  The way the scam worked is that each session, someone would introduce a bill to make the practice of naturopathy illegal in Texas.  Naturopaths would gather together, get a satchel full of money, travel to Austin and meet with the sponsor of the bill, give him the money... and strangely enough the bill would never see the light of day.

In the 1950's a representative from Conroe named Cox was proceeding to rake in some extra dough by introducing the bi-annual bill to abolish naturopaths’ practice in Texas when he got caught.  The naturopaths, being tired of the routine, proceeded to take a suitcase full of money to the Driskill Hotel, and also took a wire recorder, which they hid under the bed in the room where the money change was to take place.  Unfortunately for Mr. Cox, his whole bargain to trade his bill for money was uncovered, and that was the end of the naturopath scam and also the end of Mr. Cox’ political career.  Mr. Cox ended up being a guest of the Texas Department of Corrections for a couple of years following the scandal.

I recently called this incident to mind because of an article I read in one of the daily newspapers by an editorial writer pointing out that some bills are still being introduced for the purpose of acquiring money.

It is a fact that some bills are actually introduced because of the author’s legitimate concern that the bill introduced could address.  And it is a fact that others are introduced merely for educational purposes–to raise issues and bring about a public discussion of various things encompassed by the bills as introduced.  Unfortunately, the practice of introducing bills for money reasons also still exists--and yet too many legislators have become more sophisticated in avoiding criminal liability because they never author bills to deep-six in exchange for payments.

Most savvy politicians understand that introduction of a bill will attract the attention of the people interested in the subject matter of the bill.  Unfortunately, even observers of the legislative process, both in Congress and the state Legislature, are usually not quite sophisticated enough to understand at the outset whether or not the bill has a real chance of becoming law.  In any case, almost every bill which touches a special interest group in the Legislature will attract money either to support the bill or kill the bill.

There have been recent discussions on why the House of Representatives in the United States Congress would introduce a bill to de-fund or repeal the Affordable Care Act some 40 times knowing full well that any effort to do so was futile.  They all know in advance that such a bill would need to be passed by the Senate and be signed by the President.  Even the rankest, newest politician in Washington would know that neither event could happen as long as Democrats controlled the Senate and occupied the presidential office.  Nonetheless, bill after bill was introduced attempting to thwart Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act.  Primarily, in this instance, it was to solidify support, raise money and establish the ultraconservative credentials of those supporting the measure.

I would invite you to sift through the some 5,000 to 6,000 bills introduced last session in the Texas Legislature.  It would not take you very long to find several hundred of them which obviously had no chance of ever being seriously considered.  As a matter of fact, you would probably find a majority of the bills never made it through the hearing process of committees.  Moreover, several never even reached the stage of having a committee hearing.  It would not take an intelligent person very long to ferret out those introduced purely for political purposes to establish the politician’s credentials as a liberal or conservative, or to alert a special interest group which would be willing to raise money to support a bill’s sponsor of a bill favored by that group.  Sad to say, but it is fact that there are still bills being introduced for the money.

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