THSC’s Suit Against Texas
The Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) is unconstitutionally seeking to limit the free speech of nonprofit groups–and thus the citizens of Texas–under the guise of regulating campaign contributions. It is widely agreed that the TEC’s end goal is to intimidate those who oppose the reelection of certain incumbent officials. Their recent action is reminiscent of legislation that would have stifled free speech and that was vetoed by Governor Perry last session. So in July of this year the THSC Association filed a lawsuit against the TEC in federal court in Lubbock.
In early September the TEC responded to our lawsuit by, for the first time, giving a legal opinion that clarified their new rule by saying that only groups who spend more than 20% of their annual budget on political speech are considered to be political action committees (PACs) and therefore are required to report all of their donors like PACs must.
Dark Money or Free Speech?
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that groups whose major purpose is not the election of candidates are not required to report as PACs. The media, who like to refer to this issue as one of “dark money,” often say that these associations are skirting the laws requiring disclosure of political donations, but they are missing an important point. The political speech of these groups is public speech by American citizens related to the purpose of their associations.
The purpose of THSC’s association is to support parental rights and home schooling. Texas Right to Life’s purpose is to support the issue of life. Empower Texans’ purpose is to support limited government and lower taxes. When these groups spend money promoting a message of support for or opposition to a candidate based on their own group’s purpose, that is free speech by the group and not a political contribution in support of or in opposition to a candidate.
The media would have us believe that any person or group who expresses an opinion about a candidate should be registered with the state as a PAC and regulated as such. In fact, I was contacted by an attorney friend who was representing a man who started his own publication from his own home to tell people who he thought should and should not be elected. He was investigated by the TEC and told he was in violation of the law because he was not registered as a PAC and not reporting to the Commission.
Now, it’s OK, if you are The Austin American-Statesman, The Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle, or The New York Times, to opine about who should and who should not be elected without being regulated by the state because those entities are “the media.” Somehow, the TEC says you as a regular citizen cannot participate in political free speech on the same basis and if you do they will seek to make you pay.
We Won’t Back Down
The good news is that the TEC acknowledged some of our claims in order to avoid a showdown in federal court in Lubbock. It is now clear that many groups like our Association are not required to report all their donors to the state when expressing our political opinion to our friends and supporters. However, as we stated in our press release, it’s not over yet because the TEC still has not acquiesced to the full constitutional free speech rights that the U.S. Supreme Court has laid out in recent years.