Michael Quinn Sullivan Gets Another Ethics Complaint

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Yesterday longtime lobbyist and lawyer Steve Bresnen filed an official ethics complaint against Michael Quinn Sullivan and his company Empower Texans dba Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. As you might recall, Michael Quinn Sullivan is no stranger to ethics violations.

Recently the Ethics Commission found credible evidence that a law under its jurisdiction had been violated, namely that Michael Quinn Sullivan had been acting as a lobbyist, but failed to register as one (and therefore failed to disclose certain expenditures for State Representatives, or meet any other reporting requirements for lobbyists). This time the ethics complaint is regarding the corporation that Michael Quinn Sullivan operates under – a three-pronged corporate structure known as Empower Texans/Texans For Fiscal Reasonability.

Empower Texans is technically a PAC, which can do all the political and social engagement and advocacy it wants for any given candidate. Texans for Fiscal Responsibility is a 501c4, which is knowns as a “civic engagement” non-profit. By law they cannot primarily advocate for any one candidate, but the law is strangely vague because they may however endorse a candidate, if it is not the primary purpose of the non-profit. This 501c4 is also not required to disclose its donors on reports. Yet, the Empower Texans Foundation (which is the last in the three pronged part of Michael Quinn Sullivan's operation), is a 501c3, which is the traditional model of a non-profit, and gets its money from individual and corporate donors.

The problem comes when monies from the traditional non-profit go to fund the political activities of the other two entities. This is what Bresnen is essentially claiming: That MQS is misleading the donors of the c3 and using their money as 'dark money' in the c4 to fund local and state elections in Texas.

Click below the jump to see what Bresnen said about MQS, and what the next steps are in the ethics complaint process.Bresnen released this statement regarding the complaint he filed:

“Either the rules apply to all of us or none of us – and then there are no rules.

Soon, there will be opportunities to engage the public in a discussion of the most egregious abuse of our State's ethics laws in the modern era – the use of dark money to affect elections.

Maybe then members of the media who've been sitting on the sidelines while secret influence affects Texas elections – virtually unchallenged – will wake up and address the dark money issue.”

The next step is for the Ethics Commission to do an investigation, and determine if there is credible evidence that the law was broken, or as Bresnen alleges, is currently being violated. Once that happens they are required to offer Bresnen a settlement. This whole situation, Bresnen has noted, is a cry for more clarity and transparency in the Texas Election Code.

Last session there was an omnibus ethics bill that was passed by both chambers in the legislature, but was vetoed by Governor Perry. One of the requirements in the bill was for 501c4s to disclose their donors to the Texas Ethics Commission, and essentially the public.  

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About Author

Chaille Jolink

Chaille Jolink was born and raised in Austin, Texas and has more than a decade of experience working in Texas politics. Her interest began when she was a Senate Messenger in 2003, and she's since worked for several different legislators and candidates. She started reporting in 2007 for GalleryWatch.com, and has been a contributor to several different publications. Chaille is a graduate of the University of Texas and enjoys fashion, baseball, and playing any team sport. Chaille tweets @ChailleMcCann.

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