Despite assertions from the Texas Ethics Commission that no judicial review exists for the subpoenas they issue, Empower Texans this morning filed a declaratory judgment action in a Travis County district court. Pursuant to a ruling from the US District Court for the Western District of Texas saying that right exists, the state court is being asked to decide who is right: the TEC or the federal judge.
Two years ago, politically motivated complaints were filed against Empower Texans and it’s president at the behest of campaign consultant Bryan Eppstein and Texas Trial Lawyers Association lobbyist Steve Bresnen by two legislators with direct oversight of the TEC.
In a declaratory judgment action, the court is asked to rule on a legal question based on specific facts. The court will be asked to determine if the right to legal review exists.
“The Ethics Commission has been telling us for months that we had no right to seek judicial review of their subpoenas,” said Trey Trainor, outside counsel for Empower Texans. “Their own director of enforcement said in an open hearing that ‘constitutional arguments’ don’t apply before the commission.”
The eight members of the Texas Ethics Commission have voted twice to issue subpoenas requesting production of e-mail list subscribers, donor names, bank records, calendars, blog posts and social media entries, echoing the demands made by the Internal Revenue Service in illegally targeting conservative groups around the nation.
Because the TEC said there was no option in state law for legal review of their subpoenas, Empower Texans took the matter before the federal district court. In reviewing the subpoenas, Judge Sam Sparks called them “absurd” and “overbroad.”
“These complaints, and the follow-on subpoenas, demonstrate that the TEC is a rogue agency that has stepped far outside its original purpose of overseeing the affairs of elected officials, and is now being used by Austin insiders to silence citizens,” said Empower Texans’ president, Michael Quinn Sullivan. “The TEC wants the unconstitutional power to shut-down anyone who dares to ask questions or shine a light on the activities of elected officials and their cronies. We didn’t pick this fight, but we’re going to win it. We are not going to stand by while the TEC abuses their power.”
Empower Texans has maintained that the TEC has over-reached their authority, both in pursuing the politically-driven complaints and in the unconstitutional reach of their subpoenas.