Four commissioners of the Texas Ethics Commission are doubling down on their agency’s involvement in an international organization of speech regulators that once gave its highest award to disgraced IRS Director Lois Lerner.

In a letter last month to lawmakers, TEC commissioners Chase Untermeyer, Hugh Akin, Jim Clancy, and Bob Long praised the Council on Government Ethics Laws, calling it the “only group of its kind in the country” and a “leading provider of continuing legal education.” The four commissioners were responding to a letter from the leading conservative groups in Texas calling for fundamental reform or abolition of the TEC.

The Council on Government Ethics Laws is not just the “only group of its kind in the country.” It is, in fact, an international consortium of speech regulators, drawing heavy participation from Canada as well as European nations and other countries throughout the world that lack the United States’ historic dedication to protecting free speech.

COGEL is dedicated to advancing anti-conservative speech regulations. The organization dedicated the front page of its January newsletter this year to promoting “Blueprints for Democracy,” a joint project of the far-left groups Issue One and the Campaign Legal Center designed to “rebuild American democracy.” COGEL described Blueprints for Democracy as a “suite of specific solutions to reduce the power of money in politics.”

Specifically, their plan calls for states across the nation to adopt California’s burdensome campaign laws. A recent report from the New York-based Brennan Center, another COGEL ally, praised California’s “exceptionally tough disclosure requirements and active enforcement culture” for a steep decline independent political speech in the golden state.

It’s hard to imagine anything worse for our democratic republic than stifling political speech and limiting political engagement, but that’s exactly what COGEL is promoting.

In its publications and on its social media accounts, COGEL consistently decries the influence of “big money” in politics and calls for the Citizens United decision to be overturned. In one post the group depicted the Supreme Court’s decision as a death star aimed at the United States. Elsewhere the decision was described as “legalized corruption.” The organization suggests that American politics is being “polluted” by conservative donors.

COGEL’s far-left language aside, it is who the group has chosen to honor that should give lawmakers the most pause.

In 2008, the organization gave its COGEL award to Lois Lerner, the disgraced former Director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division. That same year, COGEL gave its Outstanding Service Award to Kevin Kennedy of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.

Lerner was forced to resign from the IRS and was held in contempt of Congress after she worked to conceal and destroy evidence of IRS targeting of Tea Party and other conservative non-profits.

Kennedy was the architect of a GAB investigation into conservative supporters of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. That investigation made international news following pre-dawn raids on the homes of conservative activists, including Eric O’Keefe of the Wisconsin Club for Growth. O’Keefe was brave enough to blow the whistle and fight back, and ultimately the Wisconsin Supreme Court shut down the investigation. Following revelation of the scandal, the GAB was abolished and its duties were assigned to two new organizations. Kennedy was banned by the Wisconsin legislature from being employed by either entity.

The commissioners may be doubling down on their involvement with COGEL because there are deep connections between the TEC and the organization. Former commissioner Tom Harrison once served as the organization’s secretary-treasurer and current TEC Executive Director Natalia Luna Ashely is currently serving on COGEL’s steering committee.

The TEC sent a contingent to COGEL’s 2015 conference, held at the posh Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. They undoubtedly intend to spend additional taxpayer funds to send representatives to the conference this year, which is taking place in New Orleans in December at the New Orleans Marriott, a four-star French Quarter hotel.

Texas should not be participating in or funding COGEL. It is a far-left, international organization dedicated to restricting the free speech rights of millions of Americans.

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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