About 15 months ago, two of House Speaker Joe Straus’ committee chairs filed unfounded “ethics complaints” against me and my organization, seeking to silence us from keeping you informed about state government. This week we learned that the complaints were actually concocted by a lead lobbyist for the Texas Trial Lawyers Association on behalf of Straus’ lieutenants.
The complaints filed against us by those committee chairs – moderate State Reps. Jim Keffer (R-Eastland) and Vicki Truitt (R-“defeated by Tarrant County voters in May 2012”) – will finally get a preliminary review hearing today in front of the Ethics Commission. That’s a commission to which Speaker Straus makes appointments and for which the legislature sets the budget. How cozy…
Sound familiar? Just recently America has learned that the Federal Election Commission was conspiring with the Obama White House and Obama Internal Revenue Service in targeting conservatives. Why should the Straus-led moderates in the Texas Legislature behave any differently?
Depending on how this hearing goes, you can expect moderates to use the Ethics Commission to start prosecuting similarly frivolous against every Republican club president, tea party activist, blogger or social media user whose voice a legislator finds inconvenient. Unethical lawmakers will use Ethics Commission complaints like duct tape over the mouths of anyone who calls out their voting records.
When Jim and Vicki filed their complaints, they swore that these were their complaints. So when the Ethics Commission finally set the hearing – more than a year after I asked for an expedited hearing! – my legal team did the unthinkable: they subpoenaed Jim and Vicki to appear and explain themselves under oath.
Well, Vicki Truitt refused to accept the subpoena. The deposed former legislator told the process server that she wanted to have nothing to do with the complaint! (Funny how getting her hat handed to her by voters can have such an effect.) I say, good for Vicki; I guess she’s admitting her’s was a political stunt trying to mask the odor of an anti-taxpayer voting record.
(Interestingly, at the time Truitt filed her false and abusive complaints she was sitting on the “sunset” committee reviewing the existence of the Texas Ethic Commission. Abuse of power by an elected official never looked so brash.)
Jim Keffer, meanwhile, wrote a letter to the Commission basically admitting that he knew nothing about the allegations in his own complaint and attached a statement from trial lawyer lobbyist Steve Bresnen saying it was Steve who did it. (The folks at AgendaWise.com have a great write up about Mr. Bresnan’s crusade for bloated government, besides his work shilling for trial lawyers.)
I’m sure attorneys will have other ways to say it, but it looks to me like Mr. Keffer’s admission highlights the abusiveness of his complaint and the process.
Put another way: Straus’ committee chairs were abusing the state’s Ethics process to pursue a political vendetta against us – and doing so with the assistance of (or at the direction of?) a lobbyist for the Trial Lawyers Association!
One member of the Ethics Commission – Democrat Paul W. Hobby of Houston – recently complained in public session about the governor vetoing Senate Bill 346 (legislation the majority of GOP legislators opposed). You’ll recall that SB346 was the IRS-abuse-scandal-on-steroids bill filed by moderate State Sen. Kel Seliger and lovingly embraced by the Democrats and a handful of Republican moderates – including Jim Keffer.
Frankly, it will be interesting to see if Jim actually shows up today at the hearing, or if he will hide like Vicki.
One final note: the hearing this afternoon is closed and “confidential.” My attorney’s have asked the Commission to at least let us bring in a court reporter so we can fully preserve the proceedings for future actions. The Ethics staff has hemmed and hawed; it seems the “confidential” part of their process is meant to protect the Ethics Commission and their legislative puppet-masters, not the falsely accused.
The First Amendment guarantees not only the freedom of speech and the press, but also the right of citizens to petition our government. When you exercise your rights, it threatens those who would abuse their power. We’re going to keep fighting to make sure you retain your rights, especially your right to make power-abusers very uncomfortable!