Governor Greg Abbott pledged ‘transparency and accountability’ for border wall donations | But donors don’t have to use real names

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In addition to potentially bogus names, the list also includes dozens of incomplete names. Donors are identified as “RT”, “SP”, “Red A” and “A Rim”.

TEXAS, United States – This story was written and published by The Texas Tribune.

Stephen F. Austin, Donnie Darko and a person who calls himself the King of the Wild Frontier were among the first people to donate money to support Gov. Greg Abbott’s effort after announcing he would be soliciting donations private to help finance it.

But there is no way to verify if Austin, who donated $ 10, has any connection with the man known as “Father of Texas”, or if Darko, who donated $ 25. , looks like the main character of the cult movie about a teenager. boy who meets a man in a bunny costume who tells him the world will end in 28 days. The King of the Wild Frontier has donated $ 50, but public records do not indicate where he lives.

Despite Abbott’s promises that transparency of the border wall crowdfunding process would be paramount, donor information leaked to the Texas Tribune for the first week of fundraising failed to verify the identity of the majority of donors. donors. Abbott’s office does not disclose the location of donors, nor does it require them to identify themselves with their real names.

“We expect full transparency and accountability,” Abbott said in June when announcing the crowdfunding effort. “So the public will know how much money is coming in and how that money is being used. “

Gaps in donation disclosures have raised ethical concerns about the private fundraising effort for the governor’s main state initiative. Experts have warned that without clear disclosure and enforcement rules, the public may never really know who is funding the state border wall. Worse, they warned, could spark the perception of a “pay-to-play” system in which donors, who are anonymous to the public, benefit from their donations to one of Abbott’s priority projects.

“You don’t want to have that big slush fund going to this state executive’s favorite project that has no accountability to anyone, with money coming from who knows what and god knows which, “said Beth Rotman, national director of money in politics and ethics at Common Cause, the government watchdog group.

The Tribune reviewed donations to Abbott’s Border Wall efforts that spanned the first eight days of its existence, June 10-17. During this time, the state received more than 3,300 individual donations. The highest was $ 5,000.

As of Thursday, the total donation for the wall exceeded more than $ 873,000, but the list of names of individual donors beyond the first eight days was not immediately available.

In addition to potentially bogus names, the list also includes dozens of incomplete names. Donors are identified as “RT”, “SP”, “Red A” and “A Rim”.

Abbott’s office released city and state information for just 25 donors who had sent money through the mail before its online fundraising portal launched on June 16. All but two of these donations came from outside Texas. A $ 10 donation received in the mail was from “US Citizen / Veteran” and was listed as anonymous.

After receiving the Tribune’s findings, Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze reiterated the governor’s commitment to “ensure full transparency and accountability to our fellow Texans,” saying Abbott had followed a ” process that has existed for decades to oversee gifts, grants and donations, ”to establish the border wall funding mechanism.

Eze added that donations are subject to state public information laws and that Abbott’s office discloses information in accordance with those laws.

“Due to the sensitive nature of personal information for credit card transactions and the very real fear of retaliation for donating to the border security mission, billing information is only kept by the agency state responsible for processing credit card financial transactions, “Eze said in a statement.” Until the Biden administration begins to do its job, Texas is working to secure our southern border and to protect Texans and Americans. “

The Tribune did not request disclosure of donor credit card numbers, but did ask for the names of donors, cities and states to help verify identities.

In a similar case, when Arizona tried to fund legal defense of a controversial immigration law that allowed police to ask citizens for their citizenship status, the state released the names of donors and States where they lived.

Not everyone who donated to the Texas Wall has hidden their identity.

Political consultants like Sherry Sylvester, one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top aides, donated at least $ 50, and Allen Blakemore, who advises some of the state’s top GOP politicians, including Patrick, made a donation of $ 25.

“Most people don’t have a problem with this,” said Robin Kolodny, chair of the political science department at Temple University. “Look at the Koch brothers, [Sheldon] Adelson, Michael Bloomberg. They are not hiding anything. I am not saying that there is no one trying to hide. But there are a lot of people who don’t have a problem.

Kolodny, who has studied public disclosures in campaign finance, said people who donate to efforts like Abbott’s Border Wall do so because they believe in the cause.

“It’s solidarity,” she said. “It’s me showing that I’m with it.”

Experts compared the wall’s fundraising effort to political contributions for campaigns and said Abbott’s office should put in place tools to reassure the public about the transparency of the project.

“You don’t want to remain anonymous because it increases the risk of someone leading public policy,” said Richard Briffault, professor of law at Columbia University.

Under Texas political reporting laws, campaigns are required to ask donors for their name, address, and professional activity when requesting donations to verify their identity. But fundraising for Abbott’s border wall is not governed by these laws and does not have these requirements.

“It certainly makes sense that you have a framework that says we’re going to reveal where the funds are coming from,” Rotman said. “But if it’s not a meaningful disclosure… when it’s just a commitment, then it’s not really worth the paper it’s written on.”

Rotman said Abbott could start by adding language to the website requiring donors to certify that they are using their legal name. His office could also list donor names on the website at the same time for the public – instead of providing them only in response to open case requests – and add software that would prevent donors from listing incomplete names.

“If you think it’s important then you have to say I’m not going to let someone write Donnie Darko and give me the money,” she said. “There are a lot of well-developed states and a lot of well-developed models. It is very possible that Texas is doing it in such a way that Texans have disclosure in the manner promised by the governor. “

Beyond removing the anonymity cloud, experts also said more disclosure could help eliminate the perception of ‘pay to play’, in which influential donors could donate money to the border wall project. Abbott in the hope of political favors or government contracts in the future.

“If you look at lobbyists or political advisers who want him to hire them because he wants to run for president, maybe they’re all asserting their demands,” Kolodny said.

Abbott’s office did not respond to questions about these concerns.

On the other hand, a requirement for addresses and professions could help avoid confusion. One name on the list of early donors is Mike Toomey, who donated $ 100. It’s the name of one of the state’s top lobbyists, whom Abbott asked last year to lead a strike force to reopen Texas during the coronavirus pandemic.

But Toomey, the lobbyist, said he did not donate to the border wall.

“It’s not me,” he said.

The system has also opened the door for creative donors to send political messages to state officials.

On June 17, a donor gave $ 1, the minimum amount required to donate to the campaign. Under the name field, the donor has indicated “StopWasting TaxpayerMoney.


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