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."