After a horrible hearing before the Third Court of Appeals, the Texas Ethics Commission has officially served notice that they will be dismissing all actions against Empower Texans in a fight that has lasted more than four years. Now the table is turning, the president of the organization says, with the commissioners facing personal lawsuits for a series of constitutional violations.
The TEC had demanded that Empower Texans turn over its donors, relying on a bizarre theory that runs counter to the constitutions of Texas and the United States, and against numerous rulings made by both the US and Texas supreme courts. The TEC action, the longest in the agency’s history, was taken at the behest of allies of House Speaker Joe Straus.
For four and a half years, the TEC – and Straus’ allies in the legislature – used the specter of an investigation to impugn Empower Texans’ efforts to inform the public about the voting records of lawmakers. At one point a federal judge called the agency’s requests for information “absurd.” For its part, the TEC staff and commissioners said they did not need to either heed the Constitution or be constrained by court rulings.
Agency staff notified Empower Texans’ outside counsel that the complaints would be dismissed at the commission’s October meeting. The move appears designed to deprive the Third Court of Appeals of jurisdiction.
“At a hearing earlier this month, the court appeared poised to shut down the TEC’s unconstitutional power grab,” said Empower Texans’ general counsel, Tony McDonald. “Since the beginning, the TEC has worked to keep the matter out of the hands of a competent court and competent judges. Whenever they felt a court closing in, the TEC pulled back. This time, they had no option but to dismiss the complaints.”
Empower Texans president warns, however, that just because the TEC is giving up on pursuing his organization, the commissioners and staff have made it clear they aren’t giving up on their unconstitutional theory. Earlier this week, the agency asked lawmakers for more money to hire outside legal counsel after squandering their budget on unconstitutional litigation.
“We’re not going to let them get away,” said Michael Quinn Sullivan. “When the commissioners arrive in Austin in October for their scheduled hearing, they will be met with subpoenas to appear for depositions where they will have to answer for their actions. They are each being sued individually and personally for acting outside state law and in violation of their oaths of office.”
Sullivan said that by dismissing the case, the commissioners have proven that their investigation was politically motivated and designed to silence Empower Texans, while paving the way for attacking anyone who upsets the Austin establishment.
“Our lawsuit will hold these commissioners personally liable for their unconstitutional actions,” added Sullivan. “They tried to use us as an excuse to silence all Texans, and instead we will use them as a warning to anyone in power who tries to abuse the public trust. Don’t mess with Texans’ constitutional rights.”