In response to a secret settlement offer sent from the Texas Ethics Commission, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and Michael Quinn Sullivan gave a one-word answer: “Nuts.” TFR refuses to surrender even as another elected official seeks to use the TEC as a weapon against a Dallas-area citizen-critic.
“When the Germans had the 101st Airborne Division surrounded at Bastogne, the acting division commander – Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe – responded to an unconditional surrender with ‘Nuts.’ We’re taking the same approach,” said Sullivan. “And just like the Allies won the Battle of the Bulge, so too will conservatives triumph over the speech-regulators at the Texas Ethics Commission.”
More than 20 months ago two allies of House Speaker Joe Straus filed complaints against Sullivan and TFR, alleging that communications with Texans about the performance of the legislature should be regulated by the state.
In a closed-door hearing held at the Capitol at the end of October, former State Rep. Vicki Truitt of Southlake testified under oath that she filed the charges at the behest of her political consultant, liberal lobbyist Bryan Eppstein of Tarrant County.
Under oath, it was also learned that the complaints were actually compiled by a lobbyist for the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, Steve Bresnen. In fact, Bresnen had lurked in the shadows until just before the hearing – not revealing he was behind the effort to intimidate and silence TFR through the Ethics complaint process. The testimony also revealed that the Ethics Commission staff had brokered an “agency” relationship between Bresnen and State Rep. Jim Keffer, one of Speaker Straus’ legislative lieutenants and an architect of the 2009 coup in which 65 Democrats and 11 Republicans took control of the House.
The Ethics Commission at the end of October declined to take further action on the matter, claiming that they needed more time to review the case they have already had under review for nearly two years.
Late last week, though, the Commission staff sent a letter asking TFR and Sullivan to pay them fees, without ‘admitting’ to wrongdoing.
“Why would I advise my client to pay even the requested small fine when the Commission has not and can not state the specific activity which it claims constitutes lobbying activity for which he legally needs to register?” asked lead counsel Joe Nixon. “The offer to pay two $500 fines for general communication is indicative of the lack of evidence of a lawful need to register to lobby.”
Before the closed-door hearing, Sullivan had said the case was being prosecuted by an agency eager to regulate political speech – something Straus-allied legislators tried to do during the 83rd Session – was opposed by conservative lawmakers, and ultimately vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry. The vice-chairman of the Ethics Commission, Democrat Paul Hobby of Houston (an appointee to the Commission by Straus) has said publicly he wants to powers of the commission vastly expanded.
Commission chairman Jim Clancy of Houston (an appointee of Perry) said during the closed-door hearing that he wants every Texan to be a registered lobbyist. [NOTE: In the hearing, Mr. Clancy said that he doesn’t just want “26” Texans as lobbyists but “26 million.” That’s the approximate population of the state.]
Since that October closed-door session, liberal Republican Thomas Ratliff, a member of the State Board of Education, has filed an Ethics Complaint against citizen activist Alice Linahan, claiming that she needs to be registered as a lobbyist simply because she exercised her constitutional rights.
“The first amendment to the US Constitution gives citizens the right to petition their government,” said Sullivan. “Now we have lawless agencies and rogue elected officials attempting to regulate the very speech our founding fathers wanted desperately to protect: the right to criticize and expose government officials who work against the people. Nothing less than every Texan’s right to free political speech is at stake.”
Sullivan said he fully expects the Ethics Commission to “find us guilty of criticizing politicians and exposing corruption.”
“They want to use their made-up case, crafted in the shadows and propelled by lies, distortions and half-truths, as an excuse to do through ‘precedent’ and regulation what they couldn’t do by statute. We’re not going to let them,” said Sullivan. “They want us to surrender because they know they cannot win.”