Thursday, February 22, 2018

#TXLEGE: Campaign that filed false CPS report last cycle files frivolous criminal complaint this cycle

"A merry heart does good, like medicine,
But a broken spirit dries the bones."
Proverbs 17:22

One of this website's longstanding frustrations with Republican campaigns is the lack of creative thinking.  We tend to use the same, stale, rhetoric over and over again...then we wonder why large segments of the population tune us out.  In that spirit, we welcome Empower Texans' recent mailer in the Charlie Geren/Bo French race.

At its core, the mailer is about Charlie Geren's decade plus sexual relationship with a (female) lobbyist.  True, he finally did marry the poor girl last year.  But, prior to that, they had been living in sin for a long, long time.

The satirical mailer purported to be from the "Texas Ethics Disclosure Board," an obviously fictitious entity.  It gave voters written "NOTICE" that Charlie and Mindy have engaged in a decade long sexual relationship, then listed several of Mindy's lobby clients.  Honestly, we wish we'd thought of it.

But you know an attack has been effective when it begets this level of ludicrous overreaction:
A criminal complaint against Empower Texans, a conservative group that mailed out an attack ad resembling an official government notice that targeted GOP state Rep. Charlie Geren, is “under review” by the Travis County District Attorney’s office, The Texas Tribune has learned.

A person who self-identified as a Tarrant County voter sent a letter to the DA’s office alleging that the group ran afoul of a criminal law that prohibits people from posing as government authorities, correspondence obtained by the Tribune shows. Mindy Montford, Travis County's first assistant district attorney, confirmed that her office had received a complaint about the group on Tuesday.

The controversial mailer attacks Geren for his “relationship” with a lobbyist — who happens to be his wife, Mindy Ellmer. What voters see in bold letters when they open the mail piece is “NOTICE,” above a slightly smaller font that says, “Of Relationship With Registered Lobbyist.” Then it lists Ellmer's long list of corporate lobby clients.

The mailer purports to come from the “Texas Ethics Disclosure Board,” an official-sounding name that Empower Texans registered with the Secretary of State's office late last month. There is no such government agency, though there is a Texas Ethics Commission that polices campaign and lobbyist disclosure rules.


"They're trying to deceive my constituents," said Geren, a top target of the group. The longtime Fort Worth lawmaker, one of outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus' top lieutenants, said the advertisement was designed to look official.

"It looks like it's coming from a state agency and it's not," Geren said. "A guy at church handed it to me and said what is this. I said it's another lie by Empower Texans, and he said, 'Well it looked real.' "

The complaint alleges Empower Texans may have violated a provision of the Texas Penal Code, under section 37.11, which prohibits people from posing as government officials. Specifically, the law says a person commits a third degree felony if he “knowingly purports to exercise any function of a public servant or of a public office, including that of a judge and court, and the position or office through which he purports to exercise a function of a public servant or public office has no lawful existence under the constitution or laws of this state or of the United States.”
Obviously, the Geren campaign's position is absurd.  The law in question was designed to protect actual governmental entities.  In other words, if the mailer in question purported to be from the actual Texas "Ethics" Commission, that would have been highly illegal.

That's not what happened.

In this instance, the entity in question was not an actual governmental body.  Thus, the law in question doesn't apply.  Furthermore, fictional organizations that are not what they purport to be are nothing new in Texas politics.

[Note: That being said, this is the Travis County DA we're talking about, so anything's possible.]

But here's the kicker: Charlie Geren is the guy whose campaign operative filed a false CPS report against Bo French's family last cycle.  Now, they're filing a frivolous criminal complaint.  We've seen this movie.

Finally, not that it's relevant to the discussion, we have to include a clip from this Texas Monthly screed because it's too funny not to share:
Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Latest Stunt Aims to Undermine our Democracy

As if anyone needed further proof, MQS’s bogus mailer shows that he is no better than Russian trolls.

At a lanky six-foot-four, Michael Quinn Sullivan is hard to miss around the Capitol. And even when he’s not there, it can feel like the specter of him still is. As president and CEO of Empower Texans, he has been an organizational force among the tea party groups of Texas, feeding them misinformation about state politicians. The man is known as Mucus (a play on his initials, MQS) because he engages in yucky deceptive politics, with a win-at-any-cost philosophy. His methods, like those of the Russians who meddled in the 2016 election, foment distrust in government and diminish the desire of citizens to vote, which then primes the pump for abuse.

Sullivan’s latest political stunt is case in point. On January 28, Empower Texans, operating under the assumed name of the Texas Ethics Disclosure Board (there’s no such thing) sent postcards to voters in the Fort Worth district of Representative Charlie Geren. It read: “This notice from the Texas Ethics Disclosure Board is directed to voters in HOUSE DISTRICT 99 concerning a candidate for office who must disclose a relationship with a registered lobbyist pursuant to Tex. Gov’t Code 572.0531.” It then lists the clients of lobbyist Mindy R. Ellmer, who, it just so happens, is Geren’s wife.

The clear intent of this mailer was to mislead voters into believing that Geren had done something wrong, or at least suspect.


Because of their dark money, groups like Empower Texans thrive in the shadows of secrecy and misinformation, using the same kind of loopholes that allowed Russian spies to try to manipulate voters in the 2016 elections. A cockroach that dashes across a plate at a picnic only spoils a small portion of the meal, but almost everyone will throw away the entire plate of food rather than risk contamination. That is how a democracy is spoiled.
[Note: You can read the whole thing here; that being said, given that Texas Monthly was recently caught in a pay-to-play scheme for website traffic, you might want to think twice before giving them the clicks.]

Bottom Line: It's common sense.  If you don't want people to come up with creative ways to inform voters that you've had a decade long sexual relationship with a lobbyist, don't have a decade long sexual relationship with a lobbyist.  If you choose to have a decade long sexual relationship with a lobbyist, and a watchdog group informs the voters in a creative way, that's no excuse to file a bogus criminal complaint.

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