Last year, THSC sued the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) in Federal Court over the issue of free speech for nonprofit groups who participate in political speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that non-profits like THSC have a constitutional right to engage in “political” speech or advocacy; however, the TEC has adopted rules which severely impair that right. In order to achieve our mission to advocate for home schooling and parental rights, THSC had no choice but to sue.
In response to our lawsuit, for the first time the TEC gave some clear guidelines for how groups like ours could participate in the political process and avoid targeted investigations and audits of our finances and possibly exposure of our members and donors. Then, in November, the TEC Chairman acknowledged that they were still intent on finding ways to regulate the political speech of conservative nonprofits by saying that such groups could have more than one “principal purpose.”
In June of this year, just a week after the legislative session ended, the TEC filed a motion in Lubbock Federal Court to dismiss our pending case saying the issue was now “moot” since clarifications had been made. We opposed that motion, pointing out that the TEC’s new rules were a new attempt to lower the bar on what they could regulate. The new rules require groups to count not only the money they spend on political speech, but also the money paid to employees and for rent, overhead expenses, and services based on the percentage of time the employees spend on political speech. The rules even require such groups to give a value to volunteers that work for the group doing political work, and count that as well.
In our response to the federal court, we pointed out that under TEC’s new rules, instead of counting 20% of our budget as being spent on political speech, the new rules (by changing what gets counted) could require us to report as much as 49%. This could make us a target of the TEC for investigation, fines and penalties and perhaps require us to list all of our members or donors.
The TEC has already taken this aggressive approach to another similarly situated non profit, forcing the group to spend tens of thousands of dollars to defend itself. One newspaper said, “Court filings show the subpoenas seek everything including telephone records, personnel files, appointment calendars, ‘charts of organizations,’ and financial records that include bank, accounting and bookkeeping documents.” A state district court has already dismissed one of the cases against this group.
If all of this sounds arbitrary and capricious, it should. In spite of testimony given to the House Election Committee in the 82nd Texas Legislative session, the TEC Executive Director at the time stated that the TEC has flexibility in the assignment of fines, and their attorney stated that if the error is self reported within 14 days of the deadline, there will be no fine. However, this contradicted THSC’s experience. THSC was fined $1900 by the TEC recently because we filed an amendment less than two weeks after filing to correct a report and showed that we actually spent $65 less in expenses during the election than we initially reported.
When THSC appealed that decision, we were denied; and one member suggested we should have been fined $16,000, the full amount we spent in that period. At the same meeting, the TEC voted to reduce the fine to a legislator for a report that was six months late from $10,000 to $1,000. In our second appeal, TEC reduced our fine to $1,300. Capricious–indeed.
These kinds of actions lead us to believe that there is a real risk that the TEC will use the rules they are proposing to squelch the free speech of, and harass groups with, conservative viewpoints. However, THSC exists to stand firm for Texas families, and that is why we stood up against the bullies and big government intervening in our free speech to protect you. The good news is that it’s working. The TEC keeps moving forward with new changes. Recently, the TEC proposed an amendment to the rule in question in response to our arguments in the federal suit in Lubbock. This proposed adjustment to the rules would help to reduce cumbersome requirements that currently create the practical elimination of our freedoms in political speech. The proposal is an improvement, but it’s still not enough to protect our constitutional rights.
As you can see, participating in the political process challenges even the strong-willed, but THSC continues to fight for your free speech and the protection of your rights.
What can you do?
- Please pray for this litigation for justice to be served and that free speech of the citizens of Texas will be protected.
- Remember THSC operates (on gifts) as an advocate to Keep Texas Families Free. Please consider supporting the work of protecting home schoolers and parental rights.
- Sign up for email notifications to keep informed on issues such as these impacting your family. THSC pledges to stand firm for your free speech.