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Texas Ethics Commission Considering "Dark Money" Disclosure Proposal

The Texas Ethics Commission has approved a rulemaking request on "dark money" disclosure from an Austin lobbyist.

Austin lobbyist Steve Bresnen, along with a political watchdog group, are taking a back-door approach to creating a rule that would reveal all of the money that is used to influence elected officials and their decisions.

During the previous legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill that would have required all political nonprofits to show who was receiving their political contributions. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry, but Bresnen drafted a regulation that he says would benefit Texas voters.

"The public benefits because they will know who is contributing money to influence the elections that affect all of our lives," Bresnen said.

Bresnen put the draft regulation before the Texas Ethics Commission, who approved it for a public comment on a vote of 6-2. Currently, political nonprofits -- groups under the 501(c)(4) designation -- aren’t required to disclose campaign contributions in the same way as a political action committee (PAC).

"Under my proposal, the contributors of money that’s used in an election would be disclosed whether they are operating as a 'dark money' group or as a PAC," Bresnen said.

Craig McDonald is the executive of the group Texans for Public Justice and spoke in favor of the dark money rulemaking.

" 'Dark money' is exploding -- its coming to Texas at light speed," McDonald said. "I think we will be inundated with undisclosed campaign contributions unless the [Texas] Ethics Commission, the legislature, or the courts do something about it."

"Dark money" is a way that political nonprofits can funnel money into campaigns without the public’s knowledge.  

McDonald said currently about $2 million in Texas political campaigns is considered "dark money." The ethics commission will collect public commentfrom its website and decide whether or not to move forward on the issue in the next 120 days.

Ryan started his radio career in 2002 working for Austin’s News Radio KLBJ-AM as a show producer for the station's organic gardening shows. This slowly evolved into a role as the morning show producer and later as the group’s executive producer.