Texas Tribune/Salon: Greg Abbott promised “transparency” for border wall funding — but donors clearly using fake names
Texas Tribune/Salon: Greg Abbott promised “transparency" for border wall funding — but donors clearly using fake names
Stephen F. Austin, Donnie Darko and a person who calls himself the King of the Wild Frontier were among the first people to give money to support Gov. Greg Abbott‘s border wall effort after he announced he would be seeking private donations to help fund it.
But there’s no way to verify if Austin, who donated $10, is of any relation to the man known as the “Father of Texas,” or if Darko, who gave $25, bears resemblance to the titular character in the cult film about a teenage boy who meets a man in a bunny suit who tells him the world will end in 28 days. The King of the Wild Frontier donated $50, but public records don’t state where he lives.
Despite promises from Abbott that transparency in the crowdfunding process for the border wall would be paramount, donor information released to The Texas Tribune for the first week of collections was bereft of any way to verify the identities of the majority of the donors. Abbott’s office is not disclosing the locations of donors, nor is it requiring that they identify themselves with their real names. …
The shortcomings in the donation disclosures have raised ethical concerns about the private fundraising effort for the governor’s major state initiative. Experts have warned that without clear disclosure rules and enforcement, the public may never truly know who is funding the state’s border wall. Worse, they warned, it could invite 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 this big slush fund of money that is going to this pet project of the state executive that has zero accountability to anybody, with money coming in from who knows what and God knows who,” said Beth Rotman, national director of money in politics and ethics at Common Cause, the government watchdog group. …
“It makes sense, certainly, that you have an executive saying that we are going to disclose where the funds are coming from,” Rotman said. “But if that’s not meaningful disclosure … when it’s just a pledge, then it’s not really worth the paper that it’s written on.”
Rotman said Abbott could start by adding language to the website asking donors to certify that they use their legal name. His office could also list donor names on the website contemporaneously for the public — as opposed to only providing them in response to open records 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 somebody write down Donnie Darko and give me the cash,” she said. “There are a lot of well-developed states and a lot of well-developed models. It’s very possible for Texas to do this in a way that Texans will have disclosure in the way that the governor has promised.”