A Democrat appointed to a state board by House Speaker Joe Straus has resigned following the release of documents showing him coordinating media statements with Straus’s top advisors.
Paul Hobby ended his controversial tenure on the Texas Ethics Commisison (TEC) on Friday, July 31. Hobby, a Democrat and son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby, was appointed to the commission in 2013 by Straus, who heads a coalition government of Democrats and liberal Republicans in the Texas House.
As chairman of the TEC in 2015, Hobby coordinated with liberal bureaucrats across the country to target the speech rights of conservative organizations and churches.
Documents released to Texas Scorecard by Straus’s office the morning of July 15 reveal that while serving as heading the TEC, Hobby coordinated his statements to the press with Joe Straus’s top advisors.
A January 10, 2015 email from Hobby to Straus’s general counsel, Frank Battle, and then-chief of staff, Democrat Jesse Ancira, contained the subject line “legislative per diem and its collateral effect — I HAVE DISCUSSED WITH JOE — need to send to Evan by Monday please.”
The email is a draft of a statement Hobby was preparing to send to Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune in response to questions from Smith regarding the TEC’s decision to increase the per diem payment legislators would receive during the 84th legislative session.
The Tribune was covering news that Hobby and the other TEC commissioners had approved an increase in the per diem from $150 per day to $190 per day. The change came at the same time the agency was going before the legislature seeking additional funding and changes to the agency’s governing statutes.
Hobby even commented at one TEC meeting that the pay raise was “bribery” designed to curry favor with legislators on the TEC’s legislative priorities. In its legislative recommendations, the TEC urged the legislature to increase the rogue agency’s funding and power while seeking to limit judicial review of the commission’s decisions.
The email subject line indicates that Hobby, in addition to running press statements past Ancira and Battle, had also spoken directly with Straus about the matter.
At issue in the Tribune’s report was a collateral effect of the per diem increase. By state law, lobbyists are allowed to give up to 60% of the per diem amount in gifts (typically food and alcohol) to legislators each day without disclosing any details related to the gifts on the lobbyist’s monthly report. The per diem increase meant that lobbyists could give $114 in gifts to legislators each day without reporting the identity of the recipient.
Additionally, the “joint expenditure rule” which allows multiple lobbyists to split the costs of high dollar gifts in order to stay under the reporting threshold meant that legislators could receive several times more than $114 in gifts per day without any of the wining and dining appearing on any lobbyist’s report. Former TEC Chairman Jim Clancy has commented that the joint expenditure rule means that a legislator can get together with three or four lobbyists and have “a heck of a party” without their constituents ever knowing about it.
Hobby formally submitted a letter of resignation to Straus on July 15, the same day Straus’s office released the emails showing the media coordination.
By state law, Straus must appoint another Democrat to fill Hobby’s vacancy on the TEC, which is constitutionally split between the Republican and Democratic parties. Emails uncovered by Texas Scorecard show that Austin attorney Anne Wynne was telling Travis County Democrats in May that she would be replacing Hobby on the Commission.
Wynne’s appointment now appears unlikely after Texas Scorecard highlighted statements she made on social media comparing the National Rifle Association to the terrorist organization ISIS.
Straus has not denied that his office was set to appoint Wynne, but his office has claimed that the formal appointment process has not even begun. In a coordinated media response designed to distance Straus from Wynne’s outrageous comments, unnamed sources with House Republican Caucus have claimed that Straus has promised to appoint the “best possible Democrat” to the commission.
Will the “best possible Democrat” continue to coordinate their messaging with Straus’s office? Will they continue to push the commission to attack the speech rights of conservative groups and churches?
The Texas Ethics Commission was constitutionally designed to be an independent body that would recommend salary increases for legislators to the voters and set legislators’ per diem each session. By statute, the TEC has been given the authority to enforce the state’s campaign finance rules and over time it has been stocked with bureaucrats, political has-beens, and washed-up former politicians.
It is time that honest citizens are appointed to the commission, and the TEC stops weaponizing campaign finance and lobby laws to be used against conservatives.