Houston tea party group The King Street Patriots ruled political action committee– not a non-profit
Houston-based tea party group, The King Street Patriots, are operating illegally by working under the guise of a nonpartisan, non-profit while overtly promoting Republican candidates, an Austin judge ruled this week. The ruling upholds Texas campaign finance law, rebukes KSP’s aim to remove bans on direct corporate giving to candidates and further erodes its attempt at extending Citizens United to Texas.
The decision marks the result of a 2010 lawsuit filed by the Texas Democratic Party which charged KSP–an organization noted for its mission to unearth voter fraud while battling voter intimidation charges– violated Texas’ restrictions on corporate political contributions by making in-kind donations to the Republican Party of Texas and failing to register as a “political committee” – a violation of state disclosure laws. Moreover, as a self-identified “non-partisan” group, KSP did not offer TDP the chance to partake in candidate forums, poll watcher training events or offer candidate support, Democrats argued.
“The King Street Patriots have been operating as a political entity while blatantly ignoring the laws every other political entity has to abide by. In a desperate attempt to continue doing Republicans’ dirty work in the shadows, they challenged the constitutionality of the laws they were violating,” said TDP spokesperson Anthony Gutierrez in a statement.
“The court has soundly rejected the King Street Patriots’ claims. It is time for this Republican front group to drop the façade, disclose their donors and start operating within the law.”
The Houston Tea Party subsequently countersued TDP, armed themselves with Citizens United case architect, James Bopp Jr., and pro-Chrisitan legal group, the Liberty Institute, and began a full-on challenge to loosen state campaign finance law. KSP sought to dismantle the state’s restrictions on corporate contributions to candidates, officeholders and political committees, and disclosure requirements that apply to political committees.
In their countersuit, KSP argued, “Texas’s general ban on corporate political contributions violates the underlying premise of Citizens United,” because it “permits noncorporate groups and individuals to make political contributions, but bans corporations from making the same speech.”
The Travis County District Court granted a summary judgment to the TDP, throwing out arguments by KSP that characterized definitions of “contribution,” “expenditure” and “political committee” as unconstitutional and vague. Judge John K. Dietz ruled that KSP should not be classified as a 501(c)4 corporation, but a political action committee.
As for the Citizens United argument, the court denied KSP’s claim that a ban on unauthorized corporate contributions and expenditures is unconstitutional under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause. The summary judgment notes the group’s lack of merit in the argument– it reads:
“KSP takes seemingly contradictory positions with respect to the regulation of corporations’ political speech under the [Texas Election Code]. First, it argues that the TEC oppressively restricts its political speech by banning political contributions by corporations, but it then argues that the exceptions to the “ban”, i.e. the ways a corporation is permitted to exercise political speech, are so numerous as to dilute the State’s legitimate interests. Neither argument has merit.”
The D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center jumped into the case by filing an amicus brief in defense of the constitutionality of Texas’s campaign finance laws in response to KSP’s countersuit. CLC contends KSP’s legal attempt is indicative of a nationwide trend aimed at uprooting state campaign finance regulations by way of the Citizens United case.
“The decision represents the latest in a string of victories against an aggressive nationwide litigation blitz aimed at overturning a host of state campaign finance laws in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision,” said J. Gerald Hebert, CLC executive director, in a release shortly after the ruling.
“Judge Dietz saw right through the unsubstantiated attempt by attorneys for the King Street Patriots to imply that Citizens United extended to corporate contribution restrictions and disclosure requirements despite the fact that the case did not address the former and upheld the latter by an 8-1 majority.”
But the fight isn’t over for the tea party group. In a release, KSP announced it would appeal the ruling on constitutional grounds.
“While we respect the judge’s authority, we disagree with his findings on the constitutional questions on which he ruled and are aggressively appealing the ruling. It is hard to understand why the Texas Democratic Party continues to pursue this frivolous lawsuit based on a total absence of facts and complete ignorance of our organization,” said spokesperson Bill Ouren.
TDP can now seek economic damages, “equal to twice the amount of the Patriots’ expenditures and contributions,” reported the Houston Chronicle. While KSP has consistently said its fundraising activities consist of little more than, “passing a cowboy hat around meetings,” and won’t disclose its donors–the ruling forces the group to be transparent about its funders and activities.
The Texas Independent has written extensively on the activities of the King Street Patriots, including its multiple legal challenges, its “True the Vote” poll watcher training efforts and nationwide plans to recruit one million volunteers to monitor the 2012 elections:
(Matthew Troy, teapartyphotos.com