Surprising free speech assault comes from Texas group

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As focus turns to the 85th Session of the Texas Legislature, an issue sure to be at the forefront is the legislature’s attempted power-grab to regulate the advocacy of regular citizens and nonprofit organizations.  Freedom to speak and to assemble is central and necessary to Texas Right to Life’s mission in advancing Pro-Life policies; thus, we monitor such issues carefully so that we and you are aware of threats to our freedoms.

Recently, the Texas Federation of Republican Women (TFRW) board of directors adopted a shocking resolution.  The resolution signals TFRW’s support for compulsory disclosure to government of donors who support nonprofit organizations.  The majority of activists across the state are mystified about TFRW’s backing of a policy that is:

  1. Directly from the Texas Democratic Party Platform;
  2. Supported by the Hillary Clinton Campaign and the DNC;
  3. At odds with all the prominent conservative grassroots organizations in Texas, including Texas Right to Life, Texas Home School Coalition, Texas Eagle Forum, Texas Values, Empower Texans; and
  4. Is recognized as “unconstitutional” by Governor Greg Abbott and “disastrous” by Senator Ted Cruz.

TFRW’s resolution, given the Orwellian title “Promoting Free Speech and Transparency In Elections,” in reality favors a policy that violates state and national constitutions and would chill the free speech of millions of Texans.

On page four of the 2016 Texas Democratic Party Platform, Democrats call for the Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, to be overturned.  Citizens United solidified the right of organizations to engage in advocacy for and against candidates for public office.

The resolution passed by TFRW board of directors would effectively gut the First Amendment rights clarified in Citizens United.  In fact, the TFRW board resolution is even more extreme than that articulated by the Democratic Party, because the Democratic proposals would only apply to the “largest major funders” of political advertisements or to “significant political spending,” whereas the TFRW resolution calls for the disclosure of all donors to groups who advocate for “candidates, causes, or legislation.”

As Texas Right to Life is heavily involved in formulating legislation and passing Pro-Life policies in the Texas Capitol, TFRW’s proposal would effectively require government-mandated disclosure of every donor to Texas Right to Life, even when such funds are not spent on political campaigns.  (Texas Right to Life PAC does follow and abide by the law for political disclosures.)

During the 2015 84th Session of the Texas Legislature, liberal Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives hijacked Governor Abbott’s landmark transparency package by placing similar language in to the bill, causing Governor Abbott to then oppose the measure.  “It’s important for legislators not to try and pass laws that have already been ruled unconstitutional,” Abbott said about the provision, referencing his 1998 Texas Supreme Court opinion, In re Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, 982 S.W.2d 371 (Tex. 1998).

After their attempts failed in the regular session of the 84th Legislature, the stymied Republicans in the Texas House held a hearing on the matter.  The only people invited to testify were those who shared the anti-freedom agenda of the committee members.  Their plans to limit advocacy were so outlandish that word reached Washington, D.C.

Senator Ted Cruz even decried their efforts:

Today the Texas Legislature is holding a hearing on requiring outside groups to disclose their donors to engage in political speech.  That would be a disastrous policy that would unconstitutionally chill free speech,” wrote Cruz.  “President Obama and U.S. Senate Democrats have been trying to enact this wrongheaded law for years at the federal level.  And the IRS just received 150,000 comments overwhelmingly against its proposed rules to force groups to disclose their donors.  The Texas Legislature should not enact these pernicious laws at the state level. 05/1/2014

Luckily, the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC), the governing body of the state GOP, saw the pitfalls of regulating citizen activism.  The SREC recently passed a resolution condemning such attempts at chilling involvement of everyday neighbors, friends, and family, as well as nonprofit organizations.  Led by Debbie Terry, a new SREC member from Senate District 12, and Deon Starnes of Senate District 30, the SREC resolution called on GOP legislators to reject similar efforts during the upcoming session of the legislature.  The SREC’s move is bold one and commendable, particularly since powerful GOP members of the Texas House of Representatives, including Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) and liberal Chairman Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) are the main proponents of stifling citizen-speech (because constitutional freedom of speech is the cornerstone of liberty on which Texas Right to Life and other organizations communicate with the constituents of these two about their actions in Austin.)

Liberal Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives know that the conservative grassroots organizations in Texas are united against speech-regulation proposals that violate the First Amendment.  Regrettably, TFRW fell prey to this attempt to silence the right and will no doubt be used by the liberal leadership of the Texas House during the 85th Session of the Texas Legislature as evidence of Republican support for Democratic Party policies.  The liberal Republicans in House leadership are intentionally trying to drive a wedge between the conservative grassroots and Texas’ leading organization for Republican women.

Hopefully, the broader TFRW membership will act swiftly to reign in the rogue acts of a select few beholden to liberal Texas House leadership.

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