Houston Chronicle: Groups Deplore Builders' InfluenceAfter receiving millions in donations from Texas homebuilders, the Legislature created a new state agency that restricted homeowners' rights to sue builders in court, two public advocacy groups said Monday.
Houston Chronicle: Groups Deplore Builders' Influence
They call for 'big-money' cap in campaigns
By JANET ELLIOTT
After receiving millions in donations from Texas homebuilders, the Legislature created a new state agency that restricted homeowners' rights to sue builders in court, two public advocacy groups said Monday.
The report by Campaigns for People and Homeowners for Better Building said this example of special-interest influence at the Capitol underscores the need for limits on individual campaign contributions.
"This is an egregious example of how big money hurts average Texans," said Fred Lewis of Campaigns for People. "We need to change our campaign finance laws so the average person's voice is heard at the Capitol."
The report, "Big Money and Shoddy Construction," said that Houston homebuilder Bob Perry gave $3.7 million of the $5 million homebuilders donated to executive and legislative candidates, political parties and political action committees during the 2002 election cycle.
During the 2004 election cycle, homebuilders gave $4 million, with Perry chipping in $3 million of that.
Lewis said Texas needs to adopt a reasonable aggregate contribution limit so that an individual can give no more than $25,000 cumulatively to all state candidates, parties and PACs during one year.
Perry Homes was a driving force behind House Bill 730, passed during the 2003 legislative session. The law, which created the Texas Residential Construction Commission, was the industry's biggest legislative initiative in more than a decade.
John Krugh, Perry Homes' senior vice president and corporate counsel, was chairman of a task force that developed the law. Gov. Rick Perry appointed Krugh to the nine-member panel that oversees the review process for homeowner complaints.
Critics of the law say it establishes a lengthy and bureaucratic process that homeowners must go through before they can file a lawsuit. Supporters say it protects homeowners by establishing construction standards and statutory warranties.
Janet Ahmad of Homeowners for Better Building said homeowners had more rights under the judicial system, including an implied warranty of good construction. The law replaced the implied warranty with a limited state-mandated warranty.
"Texas homeowners deserve a fair chance to have defective construction fixed," she said.
House Speaker Tom Craddick thinks homebuilders have gotten more active in the legislative process in the past few years. He said they may have learned from doctors, personal injury lawyers and other groups that found their initiatives improved after they formed PACs.
Craddick said he is opposed to limits on how much an individual can donate to state campaigns.
Kristi Sutterfield, executive director of the Texas Association of Builders, said more than 18,000 builders and remodelers have registered with the commission. Independent inspectors investigate homeowners' complaints.
The commission can't force a company to make the repairs it recommends. But Sutterfield said if a builder doesn't fix the problem, that's clear evidence for a homeowner to use in court.
"We want to police our own industry," said Sutterfield. "Frivolous lawsuits drive up the cost of housing."
Rep. Alan Ritter, D-Nederland, authored HB 730. The building supplier said the law provides a 10-year warranty for structural defects and a two-year warranty for plumbing, electrical and other systems.
"This is a major step in Texas to go from a state that had no oversight of the homebuilding industry at all," Ritter said.