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Secret Email Group Helps States Demand Names of Donors to Conservative Groups

Texas state campaign finance regulators are pursuing enforcement actions seeking the names of donors to conservative organizations. With other state regulators in Democrat-run states, these speech regulators are coordinating their responses to free speech litigation and state legislation limiting their regulatory powers.

Other states, including California, are also attempting to obtain the names of donors from conservative groups.

State speech and campaign finance regulators in blue states, and in states with regulatory boards such as Wisconsin with a decidedly left-leaning bias, have been participating in an internet discussion group to enhance state speech regulation.

The list server is run by the state of Vermont. The address: [email protected].  Emails obtained by PJ Media show extensive collaboration among bureaucrats in different states in their efforts to regulate political speech, particularly against conservatives.

Participation on the list has included government employees in at least the following states: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New York City, New York, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Texas officials turned to speech regulators in other states to aid their efforts to obtain the names of donors of a conservative Texas organization.

texas ethics commission email request for help

In the email to the private list serve, John Moore, director of enforcement at the Texas Ethics Commission, turns to other states for help in forcing the disclosure of private donor information to conservative groups.  Moore notes Texas "has joined this community of attorneys who have already experienced what we are currently going through here in Texas."  He then goes on to ask for help against the organization who is "refusing to disclose its donors" to the government.

Inquiry from Texas to List Serve Inquiry from Texas to List Serve

On the government-run list-serve, the state speech and elections regulators also share strategies for defeating pro-free speech litigation. They congratulate each other when regulations infringing political speech are upheld by the lower courts. Conversations on the list also include attacks on Jim Bopp, the attorney behind the Citizens United decision, and cross-state coordination on how to avoid paying Bopp’s legal fees in challenges he brought.

John Moore, Enforcement Director in Texas John Moore, TX Enforcement Director

Emails from this state government run list-serve show state speech regulators looking for ways to defeat efforts by conservative groups to defend the First Amendment. Emails also reveal collaboration between state speech regulators and left-wing organizations funded by George Soros.

In one example, Deirdre Marie-Iha, a lawyer for Hawaii, asks for help defending against a free speech case:

 Hi all. If your states have won campaign finance cases and [sic] Bopp and Co. (or others) have filed a petition for cert. at the Supremes, did you [sic] office hire supreme court counsel? ...  I see a cert. petition in my future (For all the right reasons!) :)

The collaboration between the speech regulators would produce a recommendation.

Deidre Marie-Iha Deidre Marie-Iha

Jane Gordon, from the New York City law department, suggested to the list-serve that Hawaii contact the Soros-funded Campaign Legal Center for the names of potential lawyers to defend free speech restrictions:

jane gordon

“I also really like (and respect) Paul Ryan at the Campaign Legal Center. He could give you some leads,” reads Gordon's reply.

Paul Ryan has suggested that regulators crack down on public statements campaigns and private groups make on Twitter. Other emails from the list-serve reveal the group of state regulators using recommendations published by the far-left Brennan Center for Justice:

Texas pushing a Brennan Center report on Citizens United Texas pushing a Brennan Center report on Citizens United to list serve

The list-serve produces an email notation:

Campaign-Finance-Litigation-Defense is a mailing list for use solely by lawyers representing State, Federal, and Local Government to share information on topics related to the defense of campaign finance and disclosure statutes. The list is designed to focus on litigation related to campaign finance and disclosure statute challenges and not general elections issues.

This collaboration between blue state speech regulators and outside interests is yielding results.

State regulators at the Texas Ethics Commission have been pursuing the names of donors to conservative groups, including a group called Empower Texans. State regulators in Texas claimed that Empower Texans had engaged in too much political speech in 2010 and 2011 by issuing vote alerts related to pending legislation.

State regulators especially did not like the Empower Texans’ Fiscal Responsibility Index, a legislative scorecard.  The scorecard ranked legislators on a variety of votes and urged supporters to encourage freedom-friendly legislation. So the state of Texas did what the left is trying to do nationwide in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United: force conservative groups to give up the names of their donors.

Forced-donor disclosure was a tactic the segregationists attempted against the NAACP in Alabama and throughout the Jim Crow south. If the names of donors are public, then the donor can be harassed and the funding choked off.

The Supreme Court blocked Alabama’s efforts to force donor disclosure in NAACP vs. Alabama. In that 1958 case, Alabama had sought to force the NAACP to register with the state as a foreign corporation. During the proceeding seeking the NAACP’s registration, Alabama issued subpoenas seeking to obtain the names of donors to the NAACP.

The Texas Ethics Commission is seeking to force registration of Empower Texans as a lobbyist organization and thereby force the disclosure of private donors.

Despite Texas being firmly in the control of Republicans after the 2014 elections, the Texas Ethics Commission is not. The commission is composed of eight commissioners -- four Democrats and four Republicans. The deliberate partisan impasse in the structure of the commission empowers the career bureaucrats, the same ones who participate in the nationwide list-serve of blue-state speech regulators. Texas participants on the nationwide list serve include John Moore, the director of the Texas Ethics Commission, and Ian Steusloff, the general counsel to the Texas Ethics Commission.

Texas Ethics Commission lawyer Ian Steusloff Texas Ethics Commission lawyer Ian Steusloff

In an ironic twist, while seeking to force conservative groups to disclose the names of donors, the Texas Ethics Commission is hiding the names of people with whom the Texas Ethics Commission communicated regarding those conservative groups.