This just in from the "blindingly obvious" files: Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of right-wing lobby group Empower Texans, is a lobbyist. And now he has a $10,000 fine, and a reminder to file his lobbyist paperwork, to prove it.
In a July 21 ruling, the Texas Ethics Commission found that Sullivan (aka "MQS" or "Mucus" to both friends and enemies) failed to file the required paperwork to operate as a legislative lobbyist. He had filed in 2005-09, but stopped doing so in 2010-11. The commission ruled that he had continued doing exactly the same lobbying. They ordered that he pay a $10,000 fine (the maximum $5,000 on two complaints), and slammed both him and Empower Texans for failing to hand over subpoenaed emails relating to his work as a lobbyist – only forgoing further action to settle the main offenses.
Sullivan began as a vice president at the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation before becoming the figure behind the conjoined twins of right-wing lobbying in Texas: Empower Texans and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. More recently, he recast himself as a "journalist" of sorts, joining Breitbart Texas. He also got the ear of the Wall Street Journal's editorial board (explaining the WSJ's recent and uncharacteristic fixation on the tenure of UT President Bill Powers.)
Sullivan's attorney and Empower Texans legal counsel Joe Nixon denounced the ruling as "outrageous," especially because the commission "failed to inquire about the organization's document retention policy." Sullivan himself put on his most ruffled feathers. Throughout the legal process, he has used the Empower Texans mailing list to bleat plaintively that the commission was simply mounting a politically motivated vendetta against him and the First Amendment. In November 2013, he went so far as to compare the commission to Nazis (see "Conservative Kingmaker Compares TEC to Third Reich," Nov. 15, 2013.)
When his fine was ordered Monday, Sullivan issued a statement fuming about "discredited witnesses and hearsay," and trashed the decision. "The essence of their ruling is this: If you talk about lawmakers, rate them, and criticize the speaker of the house, then the TEC will be used against you."
Actually, the commission found: If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it better file the requisite waterfowl paperwork. As the commissioners ruled, it's not that Sullivan simply spoke (or "reported") his mind: It was that, between 2010 and 2011, he was paid nearly $261,000 by Empower Texans to regularly meet with and contact lawmakers "to influence legislation," and he did so "without properly registering as a paid lobbyist."
Sullivan has promised to appeal the ruling. However, this may not be the end of his legal woes, since his desperate prognostications about the demise of free speech may backfire. As Harvey Kronberg of legislative insider Quorum Report noted, citing the First Amendment (free speech) as reason not to comply with a commission subpoena, rather than the Fifth (freedom from self-incrimination), could leave Sullivan open to criminal prosecution.
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