The efforts by Texas Trial Lawyers Association (TTLA) lobbyist SteveBresnen to attack Michael Quinn Sullivan (pictured) and his organization, EmpowerTexans, illustrate how political apparatuses that are designed toprotect 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 stafferof Texas House Energy Committee Chairman Jim Keffer. Bresnen is also afrequent campaign contributor to Democrats, moderates, and incumbentRepublicans.” Sullivan added, “Since 2000, Bresnen has donated over $189,000 topoliticians in Austin.”
Bresnen has very clearly targeted citizen-activist Michael Quinn Sullivan,president of Empower Texans, an organization that acts as a taxpayerwatchdog group and informs citizens about how their representatives actin 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 theindex, Sullivan informs citizens and legislators in advance of votes onlegislation his group will score positively or negatively.
Sullivan stated, “During the primary in 2012, Bresnen recruited two state representativeswho had performed particularly poorly on our Fiscal ResponsibilityIndex, the aforementioned Jim Keffer and now-former Rep. Vicki Truitt.Both legislators shared a common political consultant.” Sullivan added, “He had them fileethics complaints against me on his behalf.”
The complaints alleged that, by tellinglegislators which bills he is going to score, Sullivan is required toregister as a lobbyist and pay an annual fee to the government. Sullivan stated, “Formore 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 hearingregarding the matter and learned that members of the commission hadinvolved themselves in such a manner with Bresnan and Keffer that theagency 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 TexasHomeschool Coalition, and Empower Texans to hand over lists of theirdonors for political and legislative harassment. Sullivan stated, “While targetingconservative groups, the bill included a special carve-out for laborunions.” He added, “Bresnen and his allies were successful in passing the bill usingthe votes of Democrats and the moderate leadership of the Texas Houseand 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, allegingthat we are illegally coordinating efforts with the associated politicalaction committee, Empower Texans PAC,” said Sullivan. He added, “This claim was made despite thefact that many organizations across the state, such as the TexasAssociation of Realtors, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and the Texas MedicalAssociation have PACs associated with their organizations.”
Sullivan stated, “Bresnen just unleashed another in a line of press releasesattacking us with allegations of wrongdoing.He harped on the fact that the organization reported two differentnumbers for political activity to the ethics commission and the IRS,implying that Sullivan was a tax cheat.” He added, “In reality, Bresnen ought toknow that terms are often defined in very different ways at the federaland state level.”
One has to speculate that Sullivan’s efforts to “empower Texans”with more information about their legislators’ actions put Bresnen’slobby practice at risk. “Bresnen and his colleagues need government to bemysterious and inaccessible to the regular citizen in order to justifycharging tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to help them navigatethe passageways,” said Sullivan. As Sullivan and other activists are successful inengaging citizens with their government and holding their electedofficials 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 agencieslike the Texas Ethics Commission are sold to the people as watchdogs toguard 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 tenyears, despite punishing campaigns and citizens regularly for minorinfractions, said Sullivan. “That stat, and the ways in which an influential lobbyistlike Steve Bresnen can use the Ethics Commission to attack a citizenactivist and force me to spend thousands onattorneys defending myself, demonstrates how asking government topolice itself is usually a raw bargain.”
Sullivan concluded, “The only real answer to holding government accountable and keepingelected officials ethical is an informed electorate.”