At a special meeting in Houston today the Texas Ethics Commission voted to authorize the hiring an outside law firm in their fight to keep audio recordings of an an August hearing secret.

At an August “preliminary hearing” into politically-motivated charges filed against the non-profit conservative watchdog, Texans for for Fiscal Responsibility/Empower Texans, attorneys asked that the meeting be opened to the public, or at least to allow a court reporter to take legally admissible notes. The commission refused to open the meeting, and ordered the court reporter to leave, but promised to turn over their audio recording. The commission has since gone back on their word and said they would not 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.

“Now we have the Commission spending taxpayer dollars to hide an audiotape, rather than simply operate in the sunlight,” said Joe Nixon, lead counsel for Empower Texans. “The commissioners not only promised to provide recording, as the recording will show, but then ignored our written request for it. Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for their bad behavior. A lot of time and money could be saved if the Commission would just release the tape. It’s incomprehensible that they are working so hard to hide their record.”

The president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibilty, Michael Quinn Sullivan, described the Ethics Commission action as “just another step in their effort to unconstitutionally squelch political speech through fear, intimidation, threats and political innuendo.”

“The commissioners and their powerful allies in the legislature have made it clear their intention is to regulate political speech so special interests can silence conservative critics through intimidation and regulation,” added Sullivan. “We’re not going to let that happen. If they thought we’d roll over, they sorely miscalculated. We’re going to fight their power grab all the way.”

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