In their fight to keep the doors tightly shut on the operations of their agency, the Austin-based Texas Ethics Commission has announced it will hold a closed-door meeting in Houston on Friday. Their meeting is in regards to a lawsuit filed by Empower Texans demanding release of the audio recording from an August closed hearing.
By fighting release of the recording, the Commission is forcing Attorney General Greg Abbott to defend their attack on constitutional rights.
At that August hearing, Empower Texans’ attorneys asked that the meeting be open to the public, or at least to allow a court reporter to take notes. The commission refused to open the meeting, and ordered the court reporter to leave, but promised to turn over the recording. They have since decided not to release the recording.
The August hearing stemmed from charges filed by cronies of House Speaker Joe Straus – State Rep. Jim Keffer and disgraced former legislator-turned-lobbyist Vicki Truitt. Mr. Keffer ignored a lawful subpoena to be present at the hearing – on the recommendation of the Ethics Commission staff – and Mrs. Truitt refused to even accept the subpoena. It was revealed that the Truitt-Keffer complaints were actually prepared by Texas Trial Lawyer Association lobbyist, Steve Bresnan, and not by Keffer and Truitt, as they had previously claimed.
“It’s unfortunate that the Commission isn’t doing what they said they would do,” said Joe Nixon, lead counsel for Empower Texans. “They not only promised the recording, as the recording will show, but then ignored our written request for the recording.”
After ignoring the written request, a lawsuit was filed in Travis County to compel the Ethics Commission to comply with the state’s Public Information Act and open records laws.
“The commissioners and their staff seem to believe they can arbitrarily pick and choose which laws apply to them, and which laws to apply to the people they are prosecuting,” said Nixon. “In this case, they are forcing Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to now represent them in their fight against transparency and the rule of the law.”
As attorney general, Mr. Abbott is the attorney of record for all state agencies unless the agency takes action to adopt outside counsel. It is rumored that the Commission’s closed-door meeting on Friday is to consider hiring outside counsel.
“Either way, taxpayer resources are being wasted by the Ethics Commission, when all they really need to do is do what they said they would do: release the tape.”
Earlier today, attorneys for Empower Texans notified the Ethics Commission that Chairman Jim Clancy, Vice Chairman Paul Hobby and executive director David Reisman would be subpoenaed to testify in Austin about their refusal to follow the state’s open records laws.
“This is a fight over the future of political speech in Texas,” said Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of Empower Texans and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. “The commissioners and their powerful allies in the legislature have made it clear that their intention is to regulate political speech so powerful interests can silence critics through intimidation and regulation. We’re not going to let that happen.”