SB 19 attacks free speech; impacts non-profits

Senate Bill 19, authored by Senator Van Taylor (R-Plano), began as a measure aimed at heightening the responsibility of elected officials toward the citizenry, including requiring legislators to disclose contracts with governmental entities and preventing the “revolving door” through which former legislators immediately become paid lobbyists. 

However, SB 19 was hijacked in the House Committee on State Affairs, quickly turning SB 19 into regulation of the speech of the grassroots citizenry. 

Through amendments and new language by the House Committee on State Affairs, SB 19 is now a threat to the First Amendment rights of Texans.  The new version, called a committee substitute, mirrors the dangerous language of House Bill 37, a bill that died on the House calendar last week.  HB 37 was authored by Representative Byron Cook (R-Corsicana).  Cook is also the chairman of the House Committee on State Affairs where he wields unchecked power.

The Byron Cook version would force the disclosure of the names, addresses, employers, and occupations of donors who contribute to non-profit organizations that engage in the political process.  These alarming and intimidating disclosure requirements apply to all political activity, whether or not the primary function of the non-profit is political.  If an individual gives more than $1,000 to a non-profit organization, collection of and disclosure of donor information may be required. 

Cook proposes these sweeping and onerous regulations on top of existing regulations that already require disclosure.  Texas Right to Life PAC abides by current disclosure laws and requirements, but Cook’s proposal is even more burdensome than federal IRS rules and marks an attempt to intimidate and silence advocacy organizations that communicate with citizen voters.

Donating money to a non-profit organization is a direct way that citizens exercise their freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, key components of engagement in the civic process.  The amended SB 19 goes beyond normal, reasonable political reporting.

Texas Right to Life’s mission and goal of protecting innocent human life is predicated upon the ability to exercise our First Amendment rights.  Influencing public policy and legislation, as well as elections, is a necessary component of our work, and our supporters contribute to those efforts and programs in order for us to speak for the voiceless.  Intimidating supporters and citizens with superfluous disclosure laws does not prevent corruption but instead allows those in power to silence citizens in public debate on issues of legislation and election.

Watch the House floor here