On Wednesday, November 8, 2017, the 3rd Court of Appeals in Travis County (Austin, Texas) heard oral arguments concerning THSC’s lawsuit against the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) for abuse of power and violations of Texas Election law and the First Amendment.
At the hearing, the TEC sought to prevent the court from issuing an unfavorable decision by ignoring the legal issues presented and arguing instead that the court did not have authority to hear the case at all.
Background of the TEC Appeals Case
THSC sued the TEC in 2014 over illegally seeking to regulate nonprofit groups such as THSC that participate in political speech.
The lawsuit is based on a dispute over the authority granted to the TEC under Texas Election law. The TEC seems to be taking its cues from the IRS during the Obama Administration—in 2013, it came to light that the IRS had been targeting conservative groups for invasive audits and denying their tax exempt status.
Similarly, in recent years, the TEC has been used as a political weapon by liberal leadership in the Texas House. The agency has targeted conservative organizations for bogus charges, dragging them through court for years. In 2014, the TEC claimed power to regulate all non-profits who engage in “too much political speech.”
The agency adopted a rule change to allow the regulation of groups who spend more than 25 percent of their funds on political speech. This goes against U.S. Supreme Court case law and the Texas Election code, both of which prohibit regulation of political speech unless conducted by a Political Action Committee (PAC) whose main purpose is political work.
One critical element of THSC’s mission to defend families is our ability to inform the homeschool community which candidates for elected office support the rights of Texas families. This ability to inform the public is what the TEC wrongfully hopes to regulate.
THSC’s mission is Keeping Texas Families Free. We will not ask the State of Texas or the TEC for permission to exercise our rights enshrined in the First Amendment as we protect and defend the freedom of Texas families.
What Happened at the Appeals Hearing?
During oral arguments on November 8, the TEC refused to address the merits of the case, opting instead to argue that the court was not allowed to hear the case because THSC lacked the proper legal standing to bring suit.
The TEC’s main argument was that THSC could not be regulated by the TEC and therefore could not bring suit to prevent regulation. How did they arrive at this argument? According to the TEC, THSC is not a “group of persons” as defined by Texas law, which is a necessary prerequisite to regulation.
However, the TEC pursued legal action against another identically situated non-profit group, Empower Texans, for four years over allegations that it was a “group of persons” and failed to submit to agency regulations regarding the group’s political speech. Thus, the TEC is now speaking out of both sides of its mouth.
TEC Attempting Parlor Tricks in Court
By refusing to address the merits of the case—namely whether the TEC believes that it possesses the authority to regulate non-profit groups in Texas—the agency hopes to prevent the court from issuing a binding opinion restricting its illegal practices.
The agency used a similar tactic in their lawsuit against Empower Texans when the TEC dropped the four-year suit against the non-profit organization after arguments before the 3rd Court of appeals went poorly. The result was depriving the court of jurisdiction to reign in the agency’s abuse of power.
In other words, the TEC hopes to distract the court with parlor tricks and escape with the continued ability to regulate non-profits in Texas. We will not stand for this unethical behavior.
In summary, even though the TEC actively targeted and abused other identically situated conservative organizations and adopted rules that clearly claim the authority to regulate non-profits in Texas, the agency now argues that it does not have the authority to regulate THSC. Their strategy is hoping that the court will dismiss the lawsuit without issuing a binding opinion that restricts the agency’s conduct.
How You Can Help Us Hold TEC Accountable
THSC is now waiting for a decision from the 3rd Court of Appeals on how the case will proceed. It is not clear how quickly a decision will be available.
The TEC’s playbook in litigation is to delay the case and run up the costs as much as possible. As a state agency, the TEC has access to practically unlimited funding. However, THSC has now spent nearly half-a-million dollars fighting this rogue agency back into its box.
The outcome of this case will have a substantial effect on THSC’s ability to defend Texas families through the political process. THSC needs the support of the homeschool community to continue fighting this TEC lawsuit battle. Can you help?
We are asking for $35, $50, $100, or your best gift today to help THSC defeat the TEC’s attempts to squelch our political speech. With your help, we will continue fighting to defend Texas families. That is how we carry out our mission Keeping Texas Families Free.