The Texas Ethics Commission fined the head of a conservative advocacy group for failing to register as a lobbyist, but the organization’s leader argues that he should not have to pay because he runs a media organization.
Michael Quinn Sullivan is president of Empower Texans, which provides news and information to promote fiscal responsibility in the state government. In June, the ethics commission fined Sullivan $10,000 after finding that he is a paid lobbyist who failed to register in 2010 and 2011.
Sullivan plans to file an appeal in state court, said his attorney, Joseph Nixon of Beirne, Maynard & Parsons.
The commission explained that even if Sullivan performs some journalistic activities he does not qualify for the lobbyist registration statute's media exception because he does other work as well.
“The exclusion only applies in situations where the publication of news articles, paid advertisements, or editorials is the only conduct at issue,” the board wrote in its order.
The commission found that the activities that require Sullivan to register include the “legislative scorecard” he runs and that influence votes, as well as emails he has sent to state representatives encouraging them to support or oppose various bills.
“Advocacy is indisputably legal, but being paid to directly advocate without registering as a lobbyist is not,” the commission wrote.
To Nixon, Sullivan’s activities do not constitute lobbying. He said the ruling is dangerous for the media because it could term as lobbying many routine journalistic activities, such as endorsing candidates or interviewing politicians.
“If a reporter is asking tough questions of a legislator, the legislator could say, ‘I think you’re trying to influence my vote,’ and file a complaint against the reporter,” Nixon said.