AUSTIN, TX – The Pillar of Law Institute filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Texas Supreme Court today, arguing that the court should review the state’s lobbying registration law. The case, Texas Ethics Commission v. Sullivan, challenges a $10,000 fine against a citizen for e-mailing legislators.
“When you hear ‘lobbying,’ you probably think about fat-cats wining and dining legislators,” said Benjamin Barr, author of the brief and counsel to Pillar. “But the government cannot say someone is a lobbyist and fine them for not registering simply because they send e-mails to legislators.”
Michael Quinn Sullivan, the petitioner in the case, is president of Empower Texans. In 2010 and 2011, he advocated for and against many bills considered by the Texas Legislature with public e-mail blasts and private e-mails, and also maintained a public scorecard of legislators’ votes. Two legislators filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission that he failed to register as a lobbyist, which led to a ruling and fine against Sullivan.
Sullivan successfully challenged this under the Texas Citizens Participation Act, but the ruling was overturned on appeal. Pillar’s brief argues the Ethics Commission’s ruling burdens grassroots engagement across Texas, and that the Citizens Participation Act is the right remedy.
“The Texas Ethics Commission’s ruling is so broad it would allow for investigations into any grassroots organization in Texas, which would only add more costs to those already spent complying with regulations rather than engaging the public and government,” said Barr. “As with Sullivan, it’s likely the most boisterous and effective speakers will face the wrath of the Ethics Commission. This law is a tool for censorship, plain and simple.”
Sullivan recently won another case at the Texas Supreme Court under the Citizens Participation Act, allowing him to recover costs and attorney fees from a politico who wrongfully sued him for defamation.
“Sullivan’s case against the Ethics Commission is but the latest chapter in what some rightly call the ‘Texas Speech Fight,’” said Barr. “Pillar’s legal team has been part of this fight, and we hope this case will be yet another victory against censorship by red tape.”
Click here to read the Pillar brief.
The Pillar of Law Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm in Washington, DC. Austin attorney Roger Borgelt joins the brief as local counsel.