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Legislators' Complaint Targets Conservative Activist

Photo courtesy Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

Michael Quinn Sullivan and the influential conservative group he leads, Empower Texans, haven't filed required disclosure reports on their lobbying and campaign activities, two Republican state legislators said in formal complaints filed today with the Texas Ethics Commission.

In one complaint, Reps.Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, and Vicki Truitt, R-Southlake, said Sullivan lobbied in 2010 and 2011 without filing the required lobbyist disclosures that he had filed up until that time.

In their filing, they said Sullivan and his employees lobbied lawmakers during the last quarter of 2010 and into 2011, when lawmakers began their most recent legislative session. "That direct communication included written communications directed to elected members of the Texas House of Representatives and staff employed by them expressing the action on legislation preferred by Mr. Sullivan's employer," they wrote.

They attached several letters, emails and other documents to buttress their complaints, including Sullivan's efforts to keep lawmakers from using the state's Rainy Day Fund to balance its budget, directing House members to oppose the re-election of House Speaker Joe Straus, a list of the group's legislative priorities for the session, and expressing support for various proposals and versions of bills before the Legislature.

In a second complaint, the two House committee chairmen say Empower Texans — which they say includes Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and the Empower Texans Foundation — didn't file required campaign finance disclosures for the last six months of 2011. During that time, they said in their filing, the group was engaged in campaign activities against them and other legislative candidates.

Either the group was acting alone and contributed to campaigns without filing proper disclosures with the state, the complaint said, or they made contributions "in concert" with others and thus operating illegally as a general purpose political committee.

Sullivan was not immediately available for comment.

The Ethics Commission handles such complaints privately, releasing detailed information only if and when a complaint results in action against a person or group.

Generally speaking, the lobby reports require people who advocate in the Legislature on behalf of others to name their clients and, within broad ranges, their compensation for the work. Campaign finance laws, with some exceptions, require those who are contributing to campaigns or ballot efforts to identify themselves, their sources of money, and the beneficiaries of their efforts. In a press release, Keffer and Truitt said both of their allegations would be Class A misdemeanors with fines of up to $5,000 per violation. The campaign finance complaints, if proven, can also entail financial penalties, in some cases, of treble damages to the candidates targeted by the donations  — in other words, they could be personally entitled to three times the amount spent against them.

These complaints come less than 60 days before the May 29 Texas primary elections — contests that are already dotted with endorsements and other expressions of support and opposition by Sullivan and the groups he runs. And they come in the wake of a state district court decisionagainst a Houston group — the King Street Patriots — that said the organization was operating as a political organization in violation of its nonprofit status.

Sullivan was deeply involved in the 2010 primary against Truitt, supplying yard signs and sponsoring "robo-calls" that were critical of her and supportive of her opponents. She won without a runoff, but one of those opponents is back again and so, she said in an email, are Sullivan and his group.

People filing ethics complaints with the state have to identify themselves as Texas residents; both Keffer and Truitt used their concealed handgun licenses for proof of residency.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

Ross Ramsey is managing editor of The Texas Tribune and continues as editor of Texas Weekly, the premier newsletter on government and politics in the Lone Star State, a role he's had since September 1998. Texas Weekly was a print-only journal when he took the reins in 1998; he switched it to a subscription-based, internet-only journal by the end of 2004 without a significant loss in subscribers. As Texas Weekly's primary writer for 11 years, he turned out roughly 2 million words in more than 500 editions, added an online library of resources and documents and items of interest to insiders, and a daily news clipping service that links to stories from papers across Texas. Before joining Texas Weekly in September 1998, Ramsey was associate deputy comptroller for policy with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, also working as the agency's director of communications. Prior to that 28-month stint in government, Ramsey spent 17 years in journalism, reporting for the Houston Chronicle from its Austin bureau and for the Dallas Times Herald, first on the business desk in Dallas and later as the paper's Austin bureau chief. Prior to that, as a Dallas-based freelance business writer, he wrote for regional and national magazines and newspapers. Ramsey got his start in journalism in broadcasting, working for almost seven years covering news for radio stations in Denton and Dallas.
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