An appeal filed by Empower Texans last week centers on the core question: Are there limits on the Texas Ethics Commission’s power?

After a liberal Travis County Judge refused to issue a temporary injunction restraining the TEC, Empower Texans took its opportunity to appeal the issue to the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin.

For almost four years the Texas Ethics Commission has investigated legally baseless complaints brought by allies of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus. The complaints allege that Empower Texans, by engaging in too much First Amendment-protected political speech, “morphed” into a Political Action Committee and should be forced to file paperwork with the state and disclose the identities of its donors.

The complaints were frivolous when they were brought, and the Austin Court of Appeals has twice confirmed that corporations cannot “morph” into Political Committees by engaging in constitutionally protected speech. Despite these rulings, the TEC refuses to dismiss the complaints and is insisting on proceeding with their investigation.

In a hearing last month on Empower Texans’ motion, TEC chairman Paul Hobby and former chairman Jim Clancy were questioned on the stand.

Hobby confessed that the TEC could not articulate a theory of its case against Empower Texans. Despite this, he and Clancy claimed that the agency needed to be able to investigate Empower Texans in order to determine if the agency could articulate a case.

Essentially Hobby, Clancy, the TEC, and its lawyers from the Attorney General’s office are arguing they have the authority to investigate any citizen, business, church, or civic group for unknown violations of elections laws just because a political opponent filed a complaint against them.

In other words – the TEC thinks it can investigate anyone, at any time, for any reason.

Empower Texans disagrees and believes that the First and Fourth Amendments apply to the TEC and limit their 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.

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