Ethics Commission: 'Mucus' Quacks Like a Lobbyist

TEC hits Michael Quinn Sullivan with maximum fine for acting as an unregistered lobbyist

Michael Quinn Sullivan
Michael Quinn Sullivan

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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Richard Whittaker
In the Heights
An explosion of dance and song in this vibrant stage-to-screen adaptation

June 11, 2021

Luke Wilson Plays a Long and Lonely Game in <i>12 Mighty Orphans</i>
Luke Wilson Plays a Long and Lonely Game in 12 Mighty Orphans
The story behind the period drama about Texas' most unlikely high school football heroes

June 11, 2021


Michael Quinn SullivanTexas Ethics Commission, Texas Ethics Commission, Empower Texans, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, Breitbart Texas, Wall Street Journal, Joe Nixon, Harvey Kronberg

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle