Attorneys working on behalf of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and its president, Michael Quinn Sullivan, today filed a lawsuit against the Texas Ethics Commission for violating the state’s Open Records laws.
The commission has become a tool of a few powerful politicians eager to silence conservative critics and punish donors, operating with very little transparency or oversight.
Acting on false accusations made by two allies of House Speaker Joe Straus, the commission is pursuing charges against both TFR as an organization and Sullivan personally – despite having disclosed in a closed-door hearing last month they had no evidence of wrongdoing. At that hearing TFR and Sullivan tried to let the public in but the Commission chairman, Houston trial lawyer Jim Clancy, refused to allow it.
“Whatever their original reason for existence, the agency now exists to extort money and silence certain political voices,” said Sullivan. “In doing so, they run roughshod over constitutional rights and state laws.”
Since the Commission refused to open to the public the August hearing on the false charges, TFR’s attorney – former State Rep. Joe Nixon – entered an Open Records Request for the audio recording. The agency did not respond to the request in the manner and time required by law, instead sending a “confidentiality” agreement.
“State law does not allow a state agency to respond to an Open Records request in this manner,” said Nixon. “It seems as if it doesn’t want the public to hear how frivolous its case is, that there was no credible evidence and its only real case is that Joe Straus doesn’t like TFR and Michael Sullivan.”
Rather than dismiss the false claims and acknowledge it had no evidence after 18 months of investigation, the commission voted to “continue” the hearing until October – without allowing attorneys for TFR and Sullivan to present their case.
Since that August hearing, the Ethics Commission has subpoenaed TFR and Sullivan for records and documents that state law does not allow the Commission to access.
“So while the Ethics Commission acts to deprive my clients of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, the Commission is refusing to follow state law in disclosing records and documents,” said Nixon. “It claims confidentiality so as to protect the accused, but in this case the Commission is clearly only seeking to protect itself.”
Commission staff also appear to have broken state law by telling at least one of the state legislators who filed the complaints not to attend the hearing – despite having been lawfully subpoenaed to do so by Nixon’s law firm. Commissioners have not responded to calls for an independent investigation of the potentially unlawful activity.
“This is an unsupervised state commission trying to do to Texans what the Obama Administration’s IRS was caught doing – breaking the law in an attempt the silence conservative critics, punish philanthropic donors, and insulate establishment politicians from questions about their legislative conduct,” said Sullivan.
After filing the suit this morning, Nixon’s firm notified both the Texas Ethics Commission and the office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott as a courtesy.