Republican legislators who have been pushing for radical new speech regulations have a new foe: the Texas GOP.
Over the weekend, the State Republican Executive Committee voted 58-1 to pass a resolution calling on the Texas Legislature to “uphold the Republican principles of freedom of speech, freedom of association, and limited government by rejecting any legislation that, in the name of transparency, expands government by requiring the reporting of members or donors of citizen and nonprofit organizations.”
The resolution, authored by Deon Starnes of Senate District 30 and Debbie Terry of Senate District 12, cites Senate Bill 346 in 2013 and the House committee substitute to Senate Bill 19 in 2015 as examples of legislation that should be rejected.
The resolution was inspired by Gov. Greg Abbott and former Gov. Rick Perry. Last year Abbott called the House version of Senate Bill 19 unconstitutional. Likewise, in his veto statement on Senate Bill 346 in 2013, Gov. Perry said the legislation would have a chilling effect on the freedom of association and freedom of speech.
Despite these protests, House leadership, including Speaker Joe Straus and State Affairs Chairman Byron Cook (R–Corsicana) have continued to push laws that would require individuals, churches, and civic groups to disclose their sources of income if they chose to spend money speaking on issues of public concern.
The SREC resolution comes on the heels of a resolution passed several weeks ago by the executive board of the Texas Federation of Republican Women that supported imposing donor disclosure laws on Texans. The TFRW resolution has ignited a backlash from member clubs who are confused as to why a Republican party auxiliary would promote a Democratic Party policy.
Indeed, the SREC resolution notes that federal versions of the law were authored in the US Senate by New York Democrat Chuck Schumer in 2012 and opposed by every Republican senator.
Just last month, Schumer supplanted Harry Reid as the leader of Democratic caucus in the US Senate.
In 2015, House efforts to enact donor disclosure laws derailed a major ethics reform package backed by Gov. Abbott that would have required legislators to disclose the contracts they and their families have with state and local governments.
There is much concern that House legislators may try to use the proposal as a poison pill again this session in order to avoid transparency for themselves.
The near-unanimous GOP resolution makes it clear that Texans are not going to be fooled by self-dealing legislators. They cannot escape ethics reform for themselves by imposing radical anti-speech regulations on their constituents.