"Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord,
But a just weight is His delight."
Fantastic new piece from Watchdog:
The insider is Joe Straus, speaker of the Texas House. The outsider is Michael Quinn Sullivan, head of the very conservative advocacy nonprofit Empower Texans.Read the whole thing here; more here.
In June the commission — several of its members are Straus appointees — fined Sullivan $10,000 for failing to register as a lobbyist. The fine followed a complaint filed against Sullivan by state Rep. Jim Keffer and former state Rep. Vicki Truitt, who were given low grades for their political performance by Empower Texans.
The commission, independent of legislative action, announced last month that henceforth, political groups like Empower Texans that spend 20 percent of their time or money on politics would have to register with the state and disclose the names of all of their donors or risk felony charges.
This is the essence of “dark money” regulation. It takes rules meant to keep politicians honest and applies them to ordinary citizens, forcing them to maintain and publish exhaustive reports on their activities and finances in perpetuity.
“The only reason that there’s disclosure required of candidates and officeholders is that the power of the sword rests with these guys,” Sullivan said. “What power does the Home School Coalition have? They can’t regulate anyone, they can’t tax anyone, they can’t imprison anyone. The only thing they have is the power to speak.”
Sullivan is among the most ferocious and visible combatants. The former lobbyist and press secretary for Ron Paul is consistently portrayed by the media as radically conservative. His assessments of Republicans who aren’t sufficiently conservative are unsparing.
In each legislative session, Empower Texans produces a scorecard, ranking lawmakers’ votes on tax, spending and regulatory issues. Since becoming speaker in a Republican palace coup six years ago, Straus and his allies have consistently ranked in the bottom half of Sullivan’s card.
At the urging of Empower Texans, the grassroots of the Republican Party have brought successful primary challenges against several Straus allies over the past few election cycles. Truitt, a vocal ally of Straus, lost her seat in 2012 to a more conservative Giovanni Capriglione.
Not long after that, Truitt joined Keffer in a complaint against Sullivan that launched an investigation by the Ethics Commission that lasted for two years.
Straus, who has beaten back challenges to his leadership with the votes of the Democratic caucus and 11 fellow Republicans who turned against the rest of their colleagues, got behind a “dark money” bill in the previous legislative session that was widely seen as tailor-made for Sullivan.
The Texas Ethics Commission is famously toothless and sleepy. Until recently, it had gone years without issuing so much as a subpoena.
When Keffer and Truitt, the two Straus allies, filed their complaint in April 2012, the commission roused itself. It interpreted state law to mean that any “direct communication” with a lawmaker meant to “influence” anything they might ever vote on counts as lobbying and requires registration.
And if that wasn’t broad enough, Texas campaign finance law deems any “communication supporting or opposing a candidate … on an Internet website” to be reportable political advertising, whether or not any money changes hands.