Turning Texas Blue: Conservative Warrior Michael Quinn Sullivan Under Fire

The efforts by Texas Trial Lawyers Association (TTLA) lobbyist Steve Bresnen to attack Michael Quinn Sullivan (pictured) and his organization, Empower Texans, illustrate how political apparatuses that are designed to protect citizens are often turned against the people.

Steve Bresnen is a professional lobbyist in Austin, Texas. His biggest clients are the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and the North Harris County Regional Water Authority, though Bresnen has several smaller clients including some gambling interests, according to his lobbyist profile in the Texas Tribune. The Tribune profile also reveals that Bresnen is closely connected with the Austin political establishment. 

Bresnen's client, the Trial Lawyers Association, is the biggest backer of the Democratic Party and other liberal causes in Texas, according to data from Texas Trial Lawyer Watch. In an interview with Breitbart News, Michael Quinn Sullivan stated, "Bresnen’s current wife is a former staffer of Texas House Energy Committee Chairman Jim Keffer. Bresnen is also a frequent campaign contributor to Democrats, moderates, and incumbent Republicans." Sullivan added, "Since 2000, Bresnen has donated over $189,000 to politicians in Austin."

Bresnen has very clearly targeted citizen-activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of Empower Texans, an organization that acts as a taxpayer watchdog group and informs citizens about how their representatives act in Austin. Empower Texans is known for publishing the Fiscal Responsibility Index, a scorecard that keeps tabs on how legislators voted on taxes, spending, and government transparency issues. As a part of producing the index, Sullivan informs citizens and legislators in advance of votes on legislation his group will score positively or negatively.

Sullivan stated, "During the primary in 2012, Bresnen recruited two state representatives who had performed particularly poorly on our Fiscal Responsibility Index, the aforementioned Jim Keffer and now-former Rep. Vicki Truitt. Both legislators shared a common political consultant." Sullivan added, "He had them file ethics complaints against me on his behalf."

The complaints alleged that, by telling legislators which bills he is going to score, Sullivan is required to register as a lobbyist and pay an annual fee to the government. Sullivan stated, "For more than a year, no one outside the Texas Ethics Commission knew Bresnen was behind the complaints." According to Sullivan, he attended the closed-door Texas Ethics Commission hearing regarding the matter and learned that members of the commission had involved themselves in such a manner with Bresnan and Keffer that the agency became an active participant in their work against a citizen.

During the 83rd Texas Legislature, Bresnen worked to pass Senate Bill 346. Sullivan believes it was designed to force groups like Texas Right to Life, the Texas Homeschool Coalition, and Empower Texans to hand over lists of their donors for political and legislative harassment. Sullivan stated, "While targeting conservative groups, the bill included a special carve-out for labor unions." He added, "Bresnen and his allies were successful in passing the bill using the votes of Democrats and the moderate leadership of the Texas House and Senate, but the bill was vetoed by Governor Rick Perry."

"Bresnen took off his mask and filed his own ethics complaint without relying on Keffer or Truitt against Empower Texans, alleging that we are illegally coordinating efforts with the associated political action committee, Empower Texans PAC," said Sullivan. He added, "This claim was made despite the fact that many organizations across the state, such as the Texas Association of Realtors, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and the Texas Medical Association have PACs associated with their organizations."

Sullivan stated, "Bresnen just unleashed another in a line of press releases attacking us with allegations of wrongdoing. He harped on the fact that the organization reported two different numbers for political activity to the ethics commission and the IRS, implying that Sullivan was a tax cheat." He added, "In reality, Bresnen ought to know that terms are often defined in very different ways at the federal and state level."

One has to speculate that Sullivan’s efforts to “empower Texans” with more information about their legislators' actions put Bresnen’s lobby practice at risk. "Bresnen and his colleagues need government to be mysterious and inaccessible to the regular citizen in order to justify charging tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to help them navigate the passageways," said Sullivan. As Sullivan and other activists are successful in engaging citizens with their government and holding their elected officials accountable to the statements they make on the campaign trail, Bresnen’s job may indeed get tougher.

"What is the lesson in all of this?" asked Sullivan. He answered himself, "Government regulatory agencies like the Texas Ethics Commission are sold to the people as watchdogs to guard against government insiders, like the lobby class, but that is not what they are in reality."

"The Texas Ethics Commission has only sanctioned one lobbyist in ten years, despite punishing campaigns and citizens regularly for minor infractions, said Sullivan. "That stat, and the ways in which an influential lobbyist like Steve Bresnen can use the Ethics Commission to attack a citizen activist and force me to spend thousands on attorneys defending myself, demonstrates how asking government to police itself is usually a raw bargain."

Sullivan concluded, "The only real answer to holding government accountable and keeping elected officials ethical is an informed electorate." 


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