A coalition of conservative grassroots organizations are calling on state leaders to reform or abolish the Texas Ethics Commission and hold accountable the six remaining commissioners for targeting churches and lying in federal and state court.
The call came in a letter delivered this week to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, and mailed to all Republican members of the legislature. The leaders of Texas Values, Texas Right to Life, Grassroots America, the NE Tarrant Tea Party, Empower Texans, the Texas Pastor Council, and the Texas Home School Coalition signed the letter.
“The Texas Ethics Commission presents a great threat to the constitutionally protected liberties of 27 million Texans,” concluded the authors. “All of the commissioners need to be replaced, and the agency needs to be fundamentally reformed or abolished.”
The letter notes that the TEC has adopted policies that would regulate churches that speak out on issues in their community. There was political outrage last year when Houston Mayor Annise Parker attempted to silence churches critical of her pro-homosexual agenda. But for five years TEC rules have been used to target an El Paso congregation whose pastor spoke out against the liberal policies of the city’s mayor.
“The gravity of the TEC’s position cannot be understated,” notes the letter. It continues:
If a church is determined by the TEC commissioners to be a political committee, then it would be compelled to disclose in elaborate reports the identities of those members who choose to tithe and the amounts the members give. In fact, regulated churches would effectively be barred from passing a collection plate because anonymous contributions would render the church unable to comply with burdensome campaign finance disclosure requirements. And if a church refused to comply, or made a mistake on their paperwork, the pastor and other church members could be subject to criminal penalties.
Meanwhile, the TEC has played a growing role in what has been described in national publications as a liberal coalition of left-leaning states working to silence citizens. Recently uncovered emails show that TEC staff regularly sought advice on how to attack citizens from disgraced speech regulating entities in Wisconsin and New York.
Tom Harrison, who abruptly resigned from the TEC this summer under a cloud of ethical questions, was secretary-treasurer of the national organization that has promoted an aggressive regulation of political speech.
The agency, unconstitutionally lead by commissioners whose terms have expired, has increasingly found itself in court. To avoid a federal lawsuit, the TEC commissioners assured the Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas that non-profit organizations could not be prosecuted for failing to register as a state political committee.
Yet in a filing in state court in June, the TEC commissioners took the opposite position, saying that they can regulate the speech of non-profits as if they were PACs.
The letter includes a call for legislators to investigate the actions of the TEC this fall in advance of the legislative session when the Senate Committee on State Affairs meets. Among the questions the letter asks senators to put to the TEC:
- How do the TEC commissioners justify telling one federal court that the TEC would not prosecute non-profit groups for failing to register as political committees, while simultaneously pursuing claims against other non-profit groups in state court?
- Do the TEC commissioners respect the US Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United and United States v. McIntyre that secured the right of organizations to speak on the most salient issues of the day, and to speak anonymously when they so choose?
- Do the TEC commissioners continue to collaborate with liberal states and far-left officials and activists to develop strategies to attack and silence conservative groups in Texas?
- Will the TEC commissioners continue to prosecute complaints against Texas churches under state election laws?
The full text of the letter can be found here.