Today, the House Committee on State Affairs will hear invited testimony related to efforts by House Speaker Joe Straus’ leadership team to target outspoken conservative non-profits. In a press release Tuesday, State Affairs Chairman Byron Cook called it an effort to address “dark money,” an undefined term with murky origins in the political left. The hearing in Texas today follows a hearing in Washington in which Democrats, assisted by the testimony of left-wing retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, railed against “dark money” in politics and pledged to amend the constitution to attack independent political speech.

Constitutional limitations like the First Amendment might stand in the way of Senate Democrats, but it hasn’t stopped State Rep. Byron Cook from pushing forward on speech suppression. Cook’s State Affairs Committee is set to hear from eight invited witnesses today. Of those witnesses, only four were identified publicly beforehand by the Committee: Ethics Commission Chairman Jim Clancy, Texas Trial Lawyers lobbyist Steve Bresnen, Kyleen Wright, President of Texans for Life Coalition, and Fred Lewis of the group Texans Together. Each of these four witnesses were called “qualified” by Cook and his staff.

Yesterday we wrote about Cook’s admissions in Navarro County to a group of Republican Women that he is pushing the “dark money” legislation in retaliation for Empower Texans informing his constituents about his voting record. Despite this, no invitation was extended to us, or any other grassroots conservative organization.

The witnesses identified by the committee are a laughable assortment drawn from the establishment’s cheering section.

Jim Clancy is the Chairman of the Texas Ethics Commission. Under his watch, the commission has unconstitutionally denied due process protections to Empower Texans while his organization prosecutes politically motivated complaints.

Steve Bresnen is the lobbyist for the Texas Trial Lawyers and was the secret author of the complaints filed against Empower Texans. Using the powers granted to him by Clancy’s cooperative Ethics Commission, he has engaged in a campaign of ethics complaints and public comments attacking Empower Texans and its right to speak.

Kyleen Wright is the head of a superfluous pro-life organization called Texans for Life. Unlike Texas Right to Life, the state’s oldest and strongest pro-life organization, Wright’s organization seems to exist solely to give cover to liberal Republican politicians who are weak on life issues. This cycle, she cooperated in a scheme to set up a fake pro-life PAC funded by liberal State Senator John Carona to give cover to Carona’s weak record.

Fred Lewis is a partisan Democrat who runs large voter registration and engagement efforts targeting Democrats in the Houston area. He is well known for his involvement targeting Tom Delay in 2004. In September of that year, Lewis’ organization started running $20,000 in ads targeting Delay over a politically motivated indictment by Ronnie Earle. When asked where the money came from, Lewis stated that the funds came from his organization’s operating budget and noted that “non-profit groups are … not required to reveal donors.”

Despite his use of constitutional protections, Lewis has long argued in favor of increasing the power of government to abuse the rights of citizens. In a 2004 interview, Lewis called for increasing the budget of the ethics commission, removing appointed and elected oversight of the commission staff, while requiring the staff to randomly audit political campaigns. In light of his sentiments, it was no surprise that Lewis testified in support of SB 346 during the most recent legislative session as well as in favor of a sunset bill designed to increase the power of the Ethics Commission.

These witnesses are not “qualified” to inform the committee about the laws. They are, however, qualified to cheer on Byron Cook in his quest to suppress speech and harass those who criticize the powerful. Texans deserve constitutional protections on their God-given freedoms of speech and association. Byron Cook’s yes-men-stacked, sham hearing is an affront to the liberty of all Texans. Get involved and fight the unconstitutional advance of dissent-squelching government power.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.