Using the Government to Tarnish Reputations and Limit Free Speech

censoredIn March THSC, along with Texas Right to Life, intervened in a federal lawsuit filed by Empower Texans against the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC). The TEC has been pursuing an investigation against Michael Quinn Sullivan and Empower Texans (ET) for over two years. The TEC is often used as a weapon against political opponents, as was this case against ET.

On Wednesday June 25, the formal hearing takes place before the TEC on the complaints by State Representative Jim Keffer and former State Representative Vicki Truitt (which were written by Texas Trial Lawyer Association lobbyist Steve Bresnen) alleging that Michael Quinn Sullivan is a lobbyist because he produces a scorecard (the fiscal responsibility index) and informs the public in advance which votes he is going to put on the scorecard.

THSC and other advocacy groups are watching this very closely since ET is a 501(C)4 organization, as is our association. We have been very troubled to watch the TEC issue subpoenas leading the federal judge to call them “absurd” because of the breadth of information asked of the advocacy group, including all of their donors.

We believe these actions by the TEC are a direct effort to undermine the free speech rights of conservative groups who are advocating for their causes and constituencies. On the federal level the attempts by the IRS to target conservative advocacy groups is still under investigation, while the Democratic leadership in the U.S. Senate seeks to pass legislation to overturn the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing advocacy groups to participate in political speech. In my opinion, the TEC is engaged in the same sort of activities in Texas.

The formal hearing will take place at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday June 25, 2014, in the John H. Reagan building, Room 120, in Austin. This building is part of the capitol complex and is on 15th Street, just to the north of the Capitol. I strongly urge those of you who can to attend this hearing, not only to observe but also to support Empower Texans because THSC could be next.

While Empower Texans will put on excellent defense experts, expect the commission to find Michael Quinn Sullivan “guilty” given the bias with which it has operated for more than two years now. However, that result will enable ET to file an appeal in district court under the “de novo” standard, which means that the TEC will have to present its case all over again in a real court. ET will finally be able to make their constitutional arguments and the TEC will be required to follow real procedure.

It would be very helpful to fill the room with supporters of free speech, Michael Quinn Sullivan, and Empower Texans. This will not only be riveting to those who are interested in free speech issues, but it will be a great civics lesson in watching this process. Please take this opportunity to stand with an outstanding advocacy organization as its leader faces people who are targeting the free speech of all grassroots groups. In spite of the expected “conviction” that will open the door for an appeal, many are confident of an eventual victory in the courts and a precedent that will benefit all advocacy groups.