A Most Unethical Commission

It went about how you would have expected. We were in front of a kangaroo court accustomed to operating far outside the sunlight of public review. Thursday night’s “hearing” by the Texas Ethics Commission on the abusive complaints filed as political vendettas by two allies of House Speaker Joe Straus against me and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. The closed-door hearing process was about as far removed from American justice and due process as Beijing is from Washington.

Make no mistake: Speaker Straus and his cronies, State Rep. Jim Keffer and now-defeated State Rep. Vicki Truitt, aren’t really targeting me. They are doing what President Obama, the IRS, and the FEC have been trying to do: silence anyone who disagrees with them.

They chose to start with me. They chose poorly. They have picked on the wrong Texan.

But clearly the desire of the Commission’s vice chairman Paul Hobby, a Democrat from Houston appointed by Joe Straus, is to expand the commission’s power so they can threaten, bully and intimidate every single donor to every single organization that takes a stand on issues with which he and his pals disagree.

Tea Party groups, Republican organizations, garden clubs, whoever, whatever … they will come after you next.

The Ethics Commission is morphing into an agency that exists so that politicians with power can intimidate those without it.. They are used to targeting politicians who are scared to death of bad things being said about them. The hearings are held behind closed doors so that lawmakers can slink in, hope whatever charges against them are never heard, write a check, and sneak out.

We came in demanding sunlight.

We started the hearing by demanding that it be opened to the public and recorded by a court reporter. The commission chairman, Jim Clancy of Portland, denied the request. His rationale? Keffer and Truitt had to agree.

Kind of hard to get them to agree, since neither bothered to be there.

Not only did they fail to appear – despite being legally subpoenaed to be there – we learned from the media that someone at the commission had told Keffer he didn’t need to show up!

How cozy.

Ethics Commission staff read the “charges” against me, but had no proof of any wrongdoing. All they had were baseless complaints filed by Keffer and Truitt – complaints we learned earlier in the week had actually been prepared by Texas Trial Lawyer Association lobbyist Steve Bresnen. Amazingly, the Commission staff kept harping on my opposition to Joe Straus!

This effort is a vendetta: pure and simple. It is an abuse of government power, a restraint on the freedom of speech and the right to petition government. Remember, cases set precedence: not just my rights are at stake, I’m just the first.

In the end the Commission staff only wanted to call one witness: Me.

Too bad for them, I refused to play along with their closed-door, star-chamber kangaroo court. It is their burden to prove I am guilty of their trumped up accusations, not mine to prove I am innocent. “Due process” apparently has no place in the Texas Ethics Commission.

Since they had no proof and no witnesses, they should have dismissed the case, right? But they didn’t.

Kangaroo court chairman Clancy “recessed” the meeting until October… apparently to give them time to make up evidence or cajole Keffer and Truitt to appear. That’s right, they have had over a year to gather evidence, found none, and now they have given themselves more time to “gather” evidence.

Their own rules said we had a right to put on witnesses. We had even brought in the process server waiting to testify that Vicki Truitt told him she wanted to have nothing to do with the complaint she filed. We also wanted to call up Keffer and Bresnen – if they had had the courage to appear.

The Ethics Commission wants to be investigator, jury, judge and executioner. They also want to pick which rules they follow, if they follow any at all.

Let me revisit a key point. We learned after the meeting started –from the press, not from the commission itself – that the commission staff had advised Jim Keffer not to show up for the hearing! We wanted him there to agree to an open meeting, and we wanted him there to testify.

The Ethics Commission was clearly working to make sure we could do neither.

My legal team tells me I have various options, all of which we are exploring. I’ll keep you updated. But, trust me, the fireworks will be huge.

I don’t mind being at the center of this fight, but we would also appreciate any help you would provide. A special contribution to help defray the legal bills would be much appreciated!

Some might squirm at the idea of confrontation with the Orwellian “Ethics Commission,” but I welcome it. “Ethics” is in their name, but not their operations. This agency and their puppet-masters are out-of-control and must be stopped.

We didn’t pick this fight, but we’re not backing down. The bullies – legislative, agency and otherwise – are going to find out that we hit back. And we hit back hard.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael is president and CEO of Empower Texans, and its premier project, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. A graduate of Texas A&M, former newspaper reporter, one-time Capital Hill staffer, think tank vice president and an Eagle Scout, Sullivan is married with three children. He divides his time between the Metroplex, the rest of Texas, and Austin.

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