Texas has stringent laws surrounding donations to political campaigns, particularly during the legislative session when campaign contributions cannot be made to any state politicians due to the potential for bribery.
However, for lobbyists who are literally paid to sway politicians toward their point of view, spending is allowed during the legislative session, and most spending cannot be traced to an individual candidate.
According to Transparency USA, more than $667 million was spent by lobbyists during the 2020 election cycle of January 1, 2019, to December 31, 2020. Most of that money was spent during the legislative session in 2019, and yet only 2 percent is attached to a legislator’s name as filed with the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC).
According to Transparency USA:
Lobbyists in Texas enjoy a high threshold for detailed reporting. They are only required to report lobbying expenditures if the amount exceeds 60 percent of the legislative per diem, which is currently set at $221 per day. This means only expenditures in excess of $132.60 per legislator lobbied, per day, must ever be reported to the TEC. If a lobbyist does not spend more than this amount on an individual legislator in a day, there is no obligation to record that lawmaker’s name in association with that lobbyist. The lax requirements present plenty of loopholes for lobbyists to wine and dine lawmakers well, while remaining under the limit. For example, a lobbyist could pick up the tab on $530 worth of drinks for four key legislators and never have to report who was there or that the meeting even occurred.
Transparency USA says the lax requirements surrounding lobbying leave room for backdoor dealing even during the legislative session, when donors are prohibited from contributing to a campaign fund. If a lobbyist exceeds their spending limit on a particular politician, another lobbyist will likely show up and help foot the bill in order to avoid the TEC requirements.
Politicians rarely need to pay for their own dinner in Austin because there is always a lobbyist (or two or three) willing to pick up the tab, and the average citizen has no mechanism for finding out just who their state representative or senator is kowtowing to while in session.