On Wednesday, the Texas State Senate Committee on State Affairs held a hearing on the grave actions taken by the Texas Ethics Commission, a state agency that has strayed in recent years into regulating the political speech of private Texas citizens. Originally created in 1991, the Texas Ethics Commission was intended to provide a source for citizens to access campaign contributions and spending of candidates and elected officials. Over recent years, at the behest of “Republican In Name Only” leadership of the Texas House, including Speaker of the House Joe Straus, the Commission has instead turned into a weapon used against conservatives of the Republican Party of Texas.
As the Texas Right to Life PAC has increasingly proved successful in defeating Republicans who only pay lip service to protecting the unborn in primary battles, the Commission has turned their crosshairs onto Texas Right to Life, our employees, our allies, and our donors. Thus, the Commission’s direction is of the utmost importance to Texas Right to Life’s ability to fight in the Texas Capitol for the lives of the unborn, sick, elderly, and the disabled.
Republican senators present at Wednesday’s hearing demonstrated a remarkable grasp on the disturbing trends and effects of the Commission’s actions. Senator Van Taylor (R-Plano) focused on the public failure of the Commission to protect the constitutional rights of citizens who are under an investigation by the Commission. In referencing revelations discovered by Empower Texans that Commissioner Tom Harrison allegedly operated as an unregistered lobbyist for various county associations while simultaneously prosecuting allegations of unregistered lobbying by Empower Texans President, Michael Sullivan, Senator Brian Birdwell (R-Waco) asked Commissioner Chase Untermeyer, “Who watches the Commission to ensure they are acting ethically?” No clear answer was provided.
Chair of the Texas Ethics Commission, Chase Untermeyer, discussed how the Commission has a screening process to dispose of complaints or mistakes in campaign finance filings due to basic human error, such as tardiness of a report, or an overlooked entry. Untermeyer’s discussion on this point is interesting as the Commission over the last two years has sought enforcement of a $16,000 fine against conservative parental-rights group the Texas Home School Coalition Association for correcting an amount the group spent on political mail by $64.
Additionally, Untermeyer described the Commission as a “quasi-judicial body.” Again, such a description of the Commission’s duties in the committee hearing is completely at odds with the practice of the Commission. In an agency hearing attempting to collect a $10,000 fine against Michael Sullivan, the Commission infamously remarked, “We don’t call constitutional balls and strikes.”
As the 85th Session of the Texas legislature convenes in January, Texas Right to Life is hopeful that with a Republican majority in both chambers, the Texas legislature will act swiftly and decisively to curb the abuses of Texas citizens’ First Amendment rights by the Texas Ethics Commission.