The old adage “ignorance of the law is no excuse” relies on the premise that laws will be based in common sense and will be easy for everyday citizens to understand. Many Texas laws fulfill that requirement, but those regarding elections, which ultimately regulate speech regarding candidates and elected officials, are antiquated and in desperate need of review.
For example, “campaign contribution” is defined as a contribution offered with the intent that it be used in connection with a campaign for elective office. This offers little guidance and requires regulators to examine the intent of every person giving money to an entity that becomes involved in campaigns.
Likewise, the definition of “campaign expenditure” is an expenditure made by any person in connection with a campaign. This definition is circular and unhelpful.
These definitions, coupled with laws that were written to apply to candidates but that are being interpreted by regulators to apply to every Texan who speaks out regarding any election, create a dangerous minefield for Texans who simply want to engage in their state and local governments.
Much of the Texas Election Code was written in an era before major court decisions acknowledged greater speech rights for citizens. The Code should be brought up to date so that it complies with constitutional requirements and protects citizens’ rights.
Texans should not be required to hire election law attorneys they cannot afford in order to speak and publish regarding the most salient issues of the day. Lawmakers could take a big step toward restoring their constituent’s rights by reviewing the Election Code, making it clearer and more precise, and modernizing it to comply with established court precedents.
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