Half of Ethics Commissioners Act Despite Expired Terms

In a letter sent to Texas’ governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker, six of the state’s largest conservative organizations called on them to “cure a very important deficiency” at an agency setting itself up as the de facto regulator of political speech and First Amendment issues.

Four of the eight commissioners at the Texas Ethics Commission are acting – including issuing fines and making regulatory rulings – after the expiration of their terms.

For example, Tom Harrison has been serving on the commission despite his term having expired more than five years ago. He is currently the TEC’s vice-chairman, but is ineligible to even hold the office of commissioner under the state constitution due to his length of service.

Appointees to the Texas Ethics Commission are not eligible for reappointment after serving a single complete four-year term and any portion of a second term.

The letter was signed by the heads of Grassroots America, the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party, the Texas Home School Coalition, Texas Right to Life, Texas Values, and Empower Texans.


May 31, 2016

The Honorable Greg Abbott
Governor, State of Texas
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711

The Honorable Dan Patrick
Lieutenant Governor, State of Texas
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, Texas 78711

The Honorable Joe Straus
Speaker, Texas House of Representatives
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, Texas 78768

Re: Holdovers on the Texas Ethics Commission

Dear Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Patrick, and Speaker Straus:

We write to request that you collectively address and cure a very important deficiency relating to the sovereign officers serving at the Texas Ethics Commission (Commission); namely, the compelling need to appoint qualified new Commissioners to replace those sitting in office under the holdover provision in Article XVI, section 17, of the Texas Constitution.

The eight commissioners are appointed – four by the Governor, two by the Lieutenant Governor, and two by the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives – via a process involving members of the Senate and House, representing the two major political parties, submitting lists of nominees to the appropriate state official for appointment. The commissioners serve for four-year terms. Additionally, Article III, Section 24a(c) of the Texas Constitution provides that “[a] member who has served for one term and any part of a second term is not eligible for reappointment.”

Importantly, certain commissioners remain in their position under the holdover provision, long awaiting replacement appointments. Specifically, please note the following expirations:

• Tom Harrison, gubernatorial appointee, expired November 2011.
• Bob Long, gubernatorial appointee, expired November 2015.
• Wilhelmina Delco, Lt. Governor appointee, expired November 2015.
• Paul Hobby, Speaker appointee, expired November 2015.

The holdover provision is a safeguard preventing vacancies and ensuring continuation of functions, rather than serving as an undue extension of terms in office. Moreover, we have for some time been concerned with the use of the Texas Ethics Commission by certain elected officials as a vehicle to harass and silence the voice of the people during their participation in the political process. In fact, the Commission, during the course of the last couple of years, has found itself involved in at least eight lawsuits brought by citizens attempting to defend their rights.

Respectfully, we request that the matter of appointing commissioners to replace those who are sitting in expired terms be set as a priority action item. In so doing, we hope and trust that you will appoint Texans who will respect the guarantees embedded in the United States and Texas Constitutions regarding the ability of citizens to participate in the political process.

Sincerely,

JoAnn Fleming
Executive Director
Grassroots America – We The People

Michael Quinn Sullivan
President
Empower Texans

Julie McCarty
President
Northeast Tarrant Tea Party

Jim Graham
President
Texas Right to Life

Tim Lambert
President
Texas Home School Coalition

Jonathan Saenz
President
Texas Values

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