A new lawsuit is challenging the Texas Ethics Commission for targeting a conservative grassroots organization in Kerr County.

The Liberty in Action Network, a Kerr County-based group co-founded by activist Terri Hall, claims that the state agency is weaponizing a burdensome portion of the Texas Election Code to stifle dissent.

LIA, also known as We The People: Liberty in Action, is facing the ire of the TEC for its voter guide issued ahead of the 2024 Kerrville local elections.

The guide featured the names of recommended candidates next to their respective races—notably Mayoral candidate Roman Garcia and City Council Candidate Barbara Dewell Ferguson.

However, the voter guide failed to include the word “for” between the respective candidates’ names and their races, a potential violation of Texas Election Code Section 255.006.

A rival organization, Kerrville Forward PAC, then filed a TEC complaint against the LIA Network, highlighting the potential violation and prompting the state agency to take action.

If found to be in violation, LIA Network could be found guilty of a Class A Misdemeanor.

Class A Misdemeanors in Texas carry up to $4,000 in fines and one year in jail.

In response to the TEC’s enforcement of Section 255.006, LIA sued the TEC in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas’ Austin Division.

The group is seeking an injunction against enforcing Section 255.006 or the TEC’s use of its “sworn complaint” process against the grassroots organization’s future publication of voter guides.

Hall told Texas Scorecard that her group was “incredulous to learn” that the agency was so concerned about a voter guide not including the word “for” in between the candidate’s name and the office they are seeking.

“Since we’re not candidates, we fail to see how this applies to us at all. But it certainly illustrates the problem we have at TEC, and how they’re getting worse if they continue to go unchallenged. We certainly didn’t welcome this fight, but we felt compelled to go beyond begging for forgiveness and cut to the heart of the matter. These rules amount to an unconstitutional restriction of political speech. We hope the court intervenes to prevent more overreach by this agency,” explained Hall.

Tony McDonald, an attorney representing the LIA Network, called attention to the lawsuit publicly last week on X.

“Liberty in Action is under the gun under an insane state law that says you can’t mention the name of a non-incumbent challenger in proximity to the office they are running for without also using the word ‘for.’ Seriously,” stated McDonald.

It’s time that Texas stopped having ‘secret speech police’ who are unleashed (at taxpayer expense) by any political opportunist who wants to level charges against their enemies.

McDonald further argued that the incident is one example of a long string of issues with the TEC.

In one recent case, he explained, the agency fined a Houston-based elderly woman $17,500 on default judgment because she did not appear before a closed-door commission hearing in Austin, even after she told authorities she lacked the means to travel to Austin.

The lady attempted to report $3,500 in political expenses but completed the form incorrectly.

The TEC lawsuit is not the only one the LIA Network has filed this local election season.

In April, LIA, Hall, and Kerrville resident Rachel Vickers sued the city of Kerrville for its recently passed ordinance restricting canvassers, peddlers, and solicitors, contending that it was an attempt to stifle grassroots opposition.

The ordinance bars Kerrville residents from engaging in political and religious speech on public sidewalks and limits the hours for door-to-door canvassing to between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. It also bans political and religious canvassers from approaching the doors of homes with no soliciting signage, no trespassing signage, and similar signage.

Kerrville’s local election took place on May 4. Garcia lost the mayoral race to Joe Herring Jr.—his colleague on the city council. Meanwhile, Ferguson sought to unseat incumbent Councilwoman Brenda Hughes but also lost her race.

Luca Cacciatore

Luca H. Cacciatore is a journalist for Texas Scorecard. He is an American Moment inaugural fellow and former welder.