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April 3, 2014      12:47 PM

Ethics Commission issues new subpoenas in Empower Texans inquiry

TEC tries to address federal courts’ concerns; MQS’ attorneys don’t seem any more likely to cooperate

In an attempt to satisfy the concerns of a federal judge, the Texas Ethics Commission on Thursday voted to withdraw “overbroad” subpoenas issued to Empower Texans and Michael Quinn Sullivan and then immediately voted to issue new subpoenas. The new requests for documents are said to be “narrower” in scope but TEC Chairman Jim Clancy did describe them as “comprehensive.”

Two weeks ago, Judge Sam Sparks said the subpoenas issued in the case so far are asking for so much documentation that they are “absurd.” Sparks did not say they are unconstitutional, however. That is a very different question, Sparks said. Sullivan took the case to federal court because he says his free speech and due process rights are being violated by the commission.

The TEC, as QR readers know, is looking into whether Sullivan has acted as an unregistered lobbyist and whether his group – primarily financially backed by Midland oilman Tim Dunn – is acting as a political action committee without making legally required disclosures. Judge Sparks said in no uncertain terms that the State of Texas does have the right to determine who is a lobbyist and the commission should be able to get its hands on documentation needed to make that determination. He was frustrated that both sides in this dispute have not reached an agreement about which documents will be produced. Sparks has yet to rule on whether his court even has jurisdiction.

During the Ethics Commission’s meeting on Thursday, Sulllivan’s attorney Joe Nixon argued that the new subpoenas are in no way narrower in scope. He said the opposite is true. "This is a doubling down of the first one," Nixon said. He speculated that it may be the commission’s intent to cripple Empower Texans and keep the organization from doing its usual work. "You're not allowed to do fishing expeditions," he said.

By Scott Braddock

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