Without fanfare, the Texas Ethics Commission on Friday ended a two-year investigation of Empower Texans – one of several based on politically-motivated complaints made by a lobbyist for the Texas Trial Lawyers’ Association.
The complaint demanded that Empower Texans, a non-profit new media entity, be fined for having a link to an associated political action committee on its website. That is a practice common to many organizations and corporations in Texas.
Rather than dismiss the complaint immediately, the TEC prolonged an investigation and required Empower Texans’ attorneys to participate in a closed-door “preliminary” hearing.
“Even when it is a frivolous complaint brought by a political opponent over a non-issue, the Texas Ethics Commission uses their process as a punishment for individuals and entities that Austin’s ruling elite don’t like,” said Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of Empower Texans. “The TEC will claim their ‘process’ vindicated us, when in fact we do not require the agency’s guidance to know our constitutional rights.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other conservatives have called for significant reforms of the state’s “ethics” laws that would shine a brighter light on politicians rather than punish citizens for participating in their government. Legislation pushed by Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick passed the Senate but was undermined in the Texas House.
Abbott called the House version of the measure “unconstitutional” because of its attacks on the First Amendment rights of citizens.
The complaint was filed by liberal lobbyist Steve Bresnen, whose political efforts are aimed at attacking U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and other conservatives. He has benefited from insider deals brokered by disgraced lawmakers like State Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball), who was defeated in the March GOP primary.
Bresnen was a major donor to Riddle, a loyalist to House Speaker Joe Straus.
Sullivan said the TEC should be reformed to prevent abusive complaints against citizens who merely exercise their right to participate in the political process. The commission recently ruled that citizens asked by lawmakers to opine on legislation should pay the state $750 and register as lobbyists before accepting the invitations.
“The rules and regulations of the TEC are stacked against citizen participation,” said Sullivan. “That has to change.”