Empower Texans recently received a letter from Jackie King, a Republican Woman activist from Purdon, Texas. The town is located in Navarro County and is (mis)represented by State Rep. Byron Cook. The letter provides evidence of Cook’s true motivation for pushing unconstitutional legislation which would regulate outspoken non-profit organizations.

On Thursday, Cook is scheduled to hold a hearing to explore an interim charge given to the House Committee on State Affairs by Speaker Joe Straus. The charge commands Cook and the Committee to “[s]tudy Title 15 of the Election Code, which regulates political funds and campaigns, including requirements for financial reports by campaigns, candidates, officeholders, and political committees” and “[s]pecifically study what types of groups are exempt from reporting requirements in the Election Code and make recommendations on how to make the political process more transparent.”

Cutting through the legalese, this charge commands Cook to hold a hearing on reviving Senate Bill 346, a bill which was passed by Democrats and a minority of liberal-leaning Republicans in House Leadership before being vetoed by Governor Rick Perry. In his veto message, Perry argued:

“Freedom of association and freedom of speech are two of our most important rights enshrined in the Constitution. My fear is that SB 346 would have a chilling effect on both of those rights in our democratic political process. While regulation is necessary in the administration of Texas political finance laws, no regulation is tolerable that puts anyone’s participation at risk or that can be used by any government, organization or individual to intimidate those who choose to participate in our process through financial means. At a time when our federal government is assaulting the rights of Americans by using the tools of government to squelch dissent it is unconscionable to expose more Texans to the risk of such harassment, regardless of political, organizational or party affiliation. I therefore veto SB 346.”

No matter what arguments Cook makes for the new regulations, his true motivations are revealed in the letter from King. In the letter, Mrs. King notes that Byron Cook spoke before the Navarro County Republican Women’s Club luncheon on March 25th.

Cook stood before the crowd of Republican ladies and held up a copy of Empower Texans’ scorecard mailer, in which he received an “F” for his performance on the Fiscal Responsibility Index. The mailer, which did not even urge a vote one way or the other on Cook, merely informed the public of how Cook had voted in Austin. Yet Cook complained about the mailer and suggested that the Republican Women needed to “do their homework.” He complained that “scorecards and voter lists are running elections” and that they should be ignored. Cook called Empower Texans a “dark money group” and said that “dark money” needed to be “reeled in.”

When one of the attendees asked Cook what “dark money” was, because she did not know the term, Cook didn’t answer her. Instead Cook asserted that “people have a right to know who contributes to 501(c)(4) organizations. He concluded his remarks by informing the crowd at the luncheon that he had plans to “work hard against dark money” in May in Austin.

During the entire presentation, Empower Texans and the report card mailing were the only organization and the only mailer cited by Cook. The remarks came more than a month before Thursday’s hearing in State Affairs to explore Straus’ interim charge and well before the hearing was announced to the public.

By his actions and words in Corsicana, Rep. Byron Cook has made clear that he is yet another politician who is upset about speech critical of his voting record. He joins Lois Lerner and the Obama administration in the hall of shame of those who have sought to use government power to harass and intimidate their political opponents.

Mrs. King’s entire letter regarding Rep. Byron Cook can be read here.

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.