Op’s PAC Flap in Texas

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A member of the Texas House of Representatives raised eyebrows last week when he asked legislative watchdogs and county prosecutors whether Time Warner Cable might have violated state laws barring contributions in exchange for legislative votes.

Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale (R-Tomball) said he was prompted to make the notification because of a handwritten letter he received from Ron McMillan, president of Time Warner Cable’s Houston division. The note was in response to a Van Arsdale application for a campaign donation from the operator’s political action committee, TX Friends of Time Warner Cable.

Van Arsdale, reached by Multichannel News as he drove to his district last week, clarified that he made the notification to protect himself and his ability to vote on pending telecommunication legislation.

“I kind of assume [McMillan] didn’t mean what he said, but he put it on a piece of paper,” Van Arsdale said. “If I didn’t do anything and the media got a hold of [that letter] later … well, I didn’t want to be put in that position,” he said.

He referred to notifying the legislature’s “integrity units” as “defusing the bomb.”

The incident came as the legislature is mired in a second special session, during which they may vote on a wide-ranging telecommunications reform bill, backed by Verizon Communications Inc., which would authorize statewide franchising of new cable competitors. The cable industry has intensely opposed to this bill, as well as a predecessor, Senate Bill 21. That bill surfaced in a previous session and was approved by a House vote but reconciliation and final approval was not completed before the session ended.

Van Arsdale voted for that bill.

Recently, Van Arsdale sent out letters seeking contributions for his re-election campaign. One such missive went to Time Warner’s PAC and generated the disputed response. McMillan wrote that due to Van Arsdale’s vote on SB21, the PAC could not support the lawmaker “at this time.”

Van Arsdale feared the last phrase made it sound as if he would have gotten a contribution had he not voted for that single bill. Vote-buying is illegal under state law and to be safe, he reported the communication.

Time Warner issued a statement, stressing that the legislator “inaccurately portrayed” how its political action committee makes donation decisions. The PAC supports officials when “their philosophies align with the objectives of our business to the benefit of our customers and employees.”

“There is a high level of frustration surrounding the protracted attempt by the telephone companies to secure special legislative consideration, as they are in this special session. The suggestion that TX Friends of Time Warner Cable PAC bases its decisions on a single vote is inaccurate and does not reflect the position of the company in this regard,” the statement said.

After Van Arsdale received the note early in the week, he considered “white-lighting” the telecom bill, which would register him as present but not voting. But the bill never came up during the week, as the legislature is still haggling over education funding reform.

Should he take the cable-favored side and vote against the telecommunications bill, Van Arsdale said that to be safe, he would not accept donations from Time Warner until the next legislative session.

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