Earlier this month, the Texas Ethics Commission fined the Alliance of Dallas Educators United Teachers Political Action Committee, which most recently supported the doomed campaign of young Damarcus Offord, $600 for a handful of violations of campaign disclosure laws. I didn't write about it because I am the Liberal Media and because the violations -- not reporting that the purchase of postage stamps was an in-kind contribution to a candidate, for example -- were unintentional, insignificant, and, well, boring.
Then I received an e-mail from the Texas Ethics Advisory Board touting the "unusually large order of 21 pages containing repeated violations of four sections of the Texas Election Code."
It went on:
Mr. Jim Doyle, a well-known Woodlands TEA party supporter, filed the complaint after noting that Tennyson's PAC, among other things, did not properly report a donation from a corporation, failed to identify candidates supported or opposed and failed to report an in-kind donation.
Mr. Doyle also sent the sworn complaint to the Texas Ethics Advisory Board (TEAB) for further review. In a statement to the TEAB about the Tennyson complaint, Mr. Doyle wrote, "In these times of increased public demand for accountability from public officials, it is inexcusable for Mrs. Tennyson to so seriously gloss over her campaign funds. I have to suppose the teachers must know that their dues are being wasted." The TEAB is known for auditing of and consultation on campaign finance reports.
Doyle is also a member of a large group of citizen-taxpayers in suburban Houston and surrounding counties who conduct statewide audits of progressive candidates, officeholders and political action committees contributing to the growth of government and the loss of constitutional authority.
Given the tone, it seemed a strange email to receive from the state's supposedly impartial arbiter of campaign finance laws, especially given that it came from one William Elmer's personal Hotmail account. Had one of its members gone rogue? Is Texas so batshit-crazy conservative (the Senate primary points to yes) that even its ethics board touts its Tea Party bona fides? Does Hotmail still exist?
Reading a bit more closely, I noticed that, despite its parenthetical acronym (TEAB) and the "sworn complaint" it reviewed, the Texas Ethics Advisory Board is not the Texas Ethics Commission. It is, in fact, the "large group of citizen-taxpayers in suburban Houston and surrounding counties" that the TEAB refers to so approvingly.
I called Doyle, a retired airline mechanic who lives in The Woodlands outside Houston. He told me that he and about a dozen or have been getting together for three or four years to comb through campaign finance reports.
Then, when they find election law violations, they file a complaint with TEC. Doyle couldn't say how many complaints the group has filed, though he estimates that the number that result in sanctions is about 90 percent.
Tim Sorrells, a TEC spokesman, said a state confidentiality law prevents the agency from disclosing how many complaints the group has filed.
He also wouldn't say how often the agency receives calls from people who confuse the TEAB with TEC.
"With respect to that particular group, I can just tell you that they're not associated with us," Sorrells said.
Doyle said the group certainly relishes going after liberals. His favorite case was against Chris Bell -- he describes the former gubernatorial candidate as "the opposite of everything I thought was right. He supported child-killing -- abortion -- and wasn't too hot on firearms." -- who ended up hiring a big-time lawyer and still wound up being slapped with a $400 fine.
But "I'll file on just about anybody," Doyle said. "Like, I have filed on different state representatives that believe pretty much what I do. If they're doing something wrong, you've got to straighten them out."
I've got no beef with holding politicians accountable, even if you focus on one side of the aisle. It appears, however, that TEAB's motives and tactics aren't so pure. See this case in Houston in which the group sent deliberately misleading mailings (sound familiar?) to donors to Planned Parenthood's political action committee. And then there's also the more general question of whether flooding the TEC with complaints that, even if they aren't dismissed, deal with violations that are trivial.
I tried one of the numbers for Elmer, but the call went to a recording: "The Magic Jack customer you have called is unavailable to take your call," which was not only redundant but told me that Elmer uses Magic Jack. Q.E.D.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.