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Homebuilders' campaign donations rapped
Tuesday, 25 January 2005

San Antonio Express-News: Homebuilders' campaign donations rapped
AUSTIN — Advocates of campaign finance reform and homeowners' rights joined Monday to spotlight almost $9 million in campaign contributions from homebuilder interests over a nearly four-year period that included passage of a law the groups say hurt homebuyers.

Homebuilders' campaign donations rapped

Peggy Fikac - Chief, Express-News Austin bureau
AUSTIN — Advocates of campaign finance reform and homeowners' rights joined Monday to spotlight almost $9 million in campaign contributions from homebuilder interests over a nearly four-year period that included passage of a law the groups say hurt homebuyers.

Homebuilders and other supporters of the 2003 measure — the Texas Residential Construction Commission Act — say the law is working to address homeowner complaints through a state commission rather than lengthy litigation.

But Fred Lewis of Campaigns for People said the law removed important rights of redress and imposed a "lengthy bureaucratic process." Janet Ahmad of Homeowners for Better Building called it a "costly and lengthy nightmare."

Lewis, whose group wants campaign contribution limits, contended there's an "imbalanced legislative process" in which homebuilders "are heard very well. The homeowners, the constituents of the legislators, they aren't heard."

State lawmakers said they represent their constituents and do what they believe is best for Texas, regardless of campaign contributions.

Scott Norman of the Texas Association of Builders said his group supported the chance for the industry to "stand up and regulate itself."

Among other points, he said keeping disputes out of court allows homebuyers to resolve problems "and get on with their lives quicker."

Commission spokesman Patrick Fortner said that of 87 homeowner complaints found in the past six months to qualify for the dispute resolution process, 33 have been concluded — with 31 of those in the homeowners' favor. He said the average case is resolved in 58 days, assuming there is no appeal.

Lobbyist and consultant Bill Miller, spokesman for political contributor Bob Perry, said the Houston homebuilder "asks for zero in return" for his donations. Contributions by Bob and Doylene Perry made up most of the donations cited by the advocates Monday, at $7.46 million.From Jan. 1, 2001, to Oct. 25, 2004, homebuilders gave at least $8.99 million in contributions that could be identified to candidates, political parties and political action committees, according to the advocates' report.

The report didn't include contributions to judicial and Railroad Commission candidates. It also didn't include contribution reports filed for the second half of 2004 by officeholders who weren't on the ballot in November or otherwise didn't have to file right before the election that year.

Of the total in contributions, $744,562 went to Gov. Rick Perry , $294,100 to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and $60,500 to House Speaker Tom Craddick.

Those tallies are through the first half of 2004, so they don't include $260,000 that Bob Perry donated to the governor in the last part of 2004. Donations also went to lawmakers, including most who sat on committees that considered bills related to builders.

Kathy Walt, spokeswoman for the governor, said he "continues to make decisions based on his principles and his philosophy and what's in the best interest of all Texans."

She said he doesn't favor contribution limits but "has always been a strong believer in disclosure," allowing voters to see who gives what to whom.

Dewhurst said disclosure ensures "the integrity of the legislative process. Altering the code in any way wouldn't change the fact that as lieutenant governor, the only interests I ever work to protect are the interests of the people of Texas."

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