Since my post last week about how the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) wants to keep Texas voters in the dark, the TEC has announced its intention to drop a case involving more than four years of investigation and litigation against the nonprofit Empower Texans. The announcement came after a hearing before the Texas Third Court of Appeals in Austin during which several judges asked why the TEC had not dropped this case already.
While this is a victory for Empower Texans, it is also a legal tactic to prevent the Third Court of Appeals from issuing a ruling that would set a binding precedent upon TEC. This recurring tactic used by TEC adds credence to the premise that the agency seeks to intimidate conservative groups and hinder their free speech, particularly as it relates to political campaigns.
Limiting Free Speech: Harassment and Intimidation
The TEC’s maneuvering reminds me of a book I recently read. The Intimidation Game: How the Left is Silencing Free Speech recounts the IRS targeting of conservative groups and how the President of the United States is playing this “game” as well.
Indeed, this has been THSC’s experience. In 2014, THSC filed suit in Federal Court to get TEC to clarify, on the record, how groups like THSC can avoid investigation and legal harassment while exercising political free speech rights. Ultimately, and only because of the threatened action of the Federal Court, TEC issued a binding opinion. However, they promptly set new rules in motion to undermine that opinion. THSC has sued to overturn these rules.
By withdrawing its case against Empower Texans, TEC can repeat this same kind of action against any politically active nonprofit in Texas, including THSC.
An End to the Games
On September 28, THSC appeared in Austin District Court to seek a ruling determining that the new rules TEC adopted are illegal. A victory in this litigation by THSC would establish a precedent that would protect every nonprofit in Texas from unjust investigations and harassment by the TEC.
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