Because they may engage in the collection and distribution of money by and for public office holders, all legislative caucuses are regulated by the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC), as are all other organized interest groups.
At one point, legislative caucuses could count on material support from the Texas Legislature as long as the caucus did not endorse candidates for office. However, in 1995 the House of Representatives passed new rules that prohibited its members from spending any state money on caucuses. Then in 1997, the House banned the use of state funds and state-supported equipment and facilities for caucus activities.1 Cut off from governmental support, the caucuses since have had to rely on other sources of support sanctioned by TEC guidelines.
Gray areas abound as caucuses draw support from politically like-minded actors outside the Legislature, including national organizations as well as external organizations in the state not directly regulated by the TEC. The Texas Legislative Black Caucus, for example, enjoys strong ties with the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL). Similarly, the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus has ties with the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL). More recently the Congressional Sportsman's Foundation (CSF) has mounted an effort to provide resources and moral support to legislators in the various states for the formation of state sportsman's legislative caucuses. After adding six state sportsman's caucuses in the fall of 2003 and spring of 2004, the CSF counted affiliates in nineteen state legislatures, including the Texas Legislative Sportsman's Caucus.
Though not a legislative caucus, the Texas Women's Political Caucus (TWPC), founded in November 1971, marked the beginning of the wave of caucus formation that washed over the Texas Legislature during the subsequent three decades. Many of the 200 women at the first meeting of the TWPC had been at the formation of the National Women's Political Caucus in Washington and at the annual conference of the National Organization for Women in California, both in the summer of 1971.2
Sometimes Texas legislative caucuses will themselves inspire and support non-legislative political caucuses. In 1995 a few members of the Texas Conservative Coalition (TCC) and some other non-legislators established the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute (TCCRI) to conduct research and education in support of the very same goals as the TCC legislative caucus.
The original aim of the TCCRI seemed to be to support directly the efforts of the TCC--indeed their websites use remarkably similar language. But, the Texas Ethics Commission ruled that any organization formed by a legislative caucus with the intent of supporting the efforts of that legislative caucus is itself a legislative caucus, and thereby is subject to the same TEC reporting requirements. As a result, the TCCRI is careful to note in subtle language that its founding and continuing operation are distinct from the TCC:
The organization was inspired by the success of the Texas Conservative Coalition (the conservative caucus in the Texas Legislature) that has served as a resource for information and public policy strategies for Texas legislators since 1985.3
Similarly, in 1993 members of the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus along with a number of other non-legislator private citizens organized the Texas Senate Hispanic Research Council, Inc. (SHRC) to pursue a three-fold agenda:
1) to advance the nonpartisan education of minorities for effective involvement in the democratic process at state and local levels; (2) to publish objective, nonpartisan research for statewide distribution regarding Hispanics and other Texas minorities; and, (3) to inform and promote positive perceptions about minority citizens of Texas.4
Notably, the SHRC's mission statement includes the following disclaimer: "This entity does not conduct research, education or conduct any other legislative caucus activity." While this seems starkly at odds with the three prongs of the SHRC's mission statement, it represents a necessary distancing of SHRC activities from the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus in order to avoid regulation by the Texas Ethics Commission.
Most caucuses, except the party-based ones, try to stay non-partisan in their activities and orientation in order to abide by the letter of state regulations. In theory non-party caucuses provide organizational resources to pursue policy interests that transcend the usual boundaries of cooperation established by political parties. But, in practice their issue positions are often shaded by partisan positions and interests. Indeed, caucuses like the Texas Conservative Coalition (the main conservative legislative caucus) insist on their bipartisan nature, while simultaneously acknowledging the general association of conservatism with the Republican Party:
Although the term "conservative" is often assumed to mean "Republican",the TCC is proudly non-partisan and welcomes members regardless of political party affiliation who support the conservative principles that the TCC has long represented: Limited government, free enterprise, individual liberty, and traditional values, as well as the appropriate role of government. TCC strives to maintain this balance and supports and opposes bills without regard to the political affiliation of the author, as well as without regard to their membership in the TCC.5
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