A Utah law that Texas speech regulators cited as inspiration for their own legislation has been struck down as unconstitutional in Federal Court.

In a settlement with the Utah Taxpayers Association, who were represented in the case by the Center for Competitive Politics, the State of Utah agreed to the entry of a consent decree declaring Utah’s campaign laws to be unconstitutional and unenforceable against non-profits like the Taxpayers Association. Utah has also agreed to pay the Association’s attorney’s fees from the case.

The Utah law was designed to force non-profit organizations, like the Utah Taxpayers Association, to disclose the privacy of their donors if the organization spoke out regarding campaigns, legislation, and elected officials.

In 2014, Texas State Rep. Byron Cook (R–Corsicana), who chairs the powerful House State Affairs Committee, invited legislators from Utah to testify about the unconstitutional Utah law.

Inspired by Utah’s efforts, Cook filed legislation that would not only have targeted politically active non-profits, but would have regulated individuals, civic groups, and churches as well. The unconstitutional bill was passed out of the Texas House before being killed in the Texas Senate.

After the session, Gov. Greg Abbott called the legislation unconstitutional, adding that it flew in the face of a 1996 decision he authored when he was serving on the Texas Supreme Court. That opinion, In Re: Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, extended the US Supreme Court’s decision in NAACP v. Alabama by declaring that organization’s membership and donor lists are protected from forced disclosure.

Cook has pledged to bring back his unconstitutional bill as an amendment to the Texas Constitution. If he can pass it out of both houses and get the citizens of Texas to vote to throw away their free speech rights, he can overturn the Texas decision. But barring the repeal of the First Amendment, the Utah Federal Court’s recent decision means even Cook’s amendment wouldn’t pass muster under the US Constitution.

In reality, Cook’s misguided bill will never, ever be the law. Taxpayers should demand that he stop wasting their money promoting it.

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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