Supporting the Constitutionality of the Texas Ethics Commission (Empower Texans, Inc. & Michael Quinn Sullivan V. TEC)


At a Glance

For 30 years, the Texas Ethics Commission (the “Commission”) has deterred public corruption and provided transparency in elections by enforcing the state’s ethics, campaign finance and lobbying laws. CLC is urging the state circuit court to uphold the state’s constitution and allow the Commission to continue fighting corruption and safeguarding the integrity of Texas’ political processes.

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The Latest

In a major win for transparency and accountability in Texas, the Texas Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal of a case challenging the legitimacy of the Texas Ethics Commission.  

For more than 30 years, the Texas Ethics Commission has deterred public corruption in the Lone Star State and provided transparency in elections by enforcing the...

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About this Case

An organization called Empower Texans, Inc., and Michael Quinn Sullivan (“Appellants”) initiated a lawsuit seeking to prove that the enforcement powers granted to the Texas Ethics Commission by the state constitution and the state legislature are unconstitutional. Appellants argue that the Commission is a legislative branch agency, and therefore does not have the constitutional authority to enforce laws regarding political expenditures and lobbying.

CLC filed an amicus brief this month in support of the Commission. Our brief explains that the Commission's authority comes from the Texas Constitution that explicitly authorizes the state legislature to delegate to the Commission the “powers and duties” necessary to achieve its purpose of transparency and integrity of Texas state elections.

 Appellants’ contention that the Commission cannot enforce campaign finance and lobbying laws in the state has no basis. The Commission and the interests they serve are important and are closely aligned with its peers in other states. The trial court was right to reject Appellants’ argument, which attempts to undermine nearly 30 years of accountability and transparency in Texas. The circuit court should affirm the trial court to uphold transparency in election spending, sustain government accountability, and decrease the influence of wealthy special interests in Texas’s political system.  

What’s at Stake

State ethics commissions are instrumental in ensuring government accountability and have been a staple of American democracy for more than 50 years. The commissions help increase voter confidence in policymakers and political institutions. Forty-Six states have ethics commissions and 36 of those states have granted their commission's broad jurisdictional authority over state executive branch officials and legislators.

Across the country, voters, legislators and courts have seen that strong political transparency laws are essential to protecting the public’s interest in open and accountable government. Weakening the Commission’s power to enforce the comprehensive campaign finance and lobbying disclosure laws would diminish the public’s trust in government.   


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