The Texas Voice has learned that Murtaza Sutarwalla, a former senior aide to Attorney General Ken Paxton who was once law partners with current First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster, has been listed as a point of contact for the dark money advocacy group San Jacinto 2023.
According to a document obtained by The Texas Voice, the Texas Ethics Commission accepted jurisdiction over a sworn complaint filed against San Jacinto 2023, a recently formed Virginia corporation, for failing to include a proper legislative advertising disclaimer on television ads and a flier. The letter from the Texas Ethics Commission lists Murtaza Sutarwalla as the point of contact for San Jacinto 2023.
Letter From Texas Ethics Commission to “San Jacinto 2023 c/o Mr. Murtaza Sutarwalla”
According to his LinkedIn page, Sutarwalla worked in the Office of the Attorney General as Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel from February 2021 until June 2022. Prior to his work in Paxton’s office, Sutarwalla worked as a law partner with Brent Webster in private practice. Webster now works as First Assistant Attorney General, a position he began in October 2020.
According to a press release from the Office of the Attorney General dated June 7, 2022, Sutarwalla left the Attorney General’s office to return to private practice and “to serve as outside counsel for the Ken Paxton for Texas Campaign.” Describing Sutarwalla’s work in the Attorney General’s office, the press release stated, “In his role as Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel, Sutarwalla was the chief legal counsel to Attorney General Paxton and his staff and supervised seven legal divisions including key divisions like the Public Finance Division, Opinions Division, and the General Counsel Division.”
San Jacinto 2023 became publicly known last week when it ran for television advertisements opposing the Paxton impeachment and encouraging viewers to call State Senator Charles Schwertner’s office to “stop the impeachment.” San Jacinto 2023 has also sent direct mail pieces to households across Texas opposing the impeachment and directing recipients to contact the offices of various State Senators. As a corporation, San Jacinto 2023 is not required to disclose donor information.
While both the television ads and mail pieces contained disclaimers stating “Paid For by San Jacinto 2023”, they did not include legislative advertising disclaimers that complied with Section 305.027 of the Texas Government Code.
That statute requires that “legislative advertising” that supports, opposes, or proposes legislation to include a disclaimer that states “the full name of the individual who personally entered into the contract or agreement with the printer, publisher, or broadcaster and the name of the person, if any, that the individual represents,” among other requirements. For the purpose of the statute, “legislation” includes “any matter that is or may be the subject of action by either house or by a legislative committee, including the introduction, consideration, passage, defeat, approval, or veto of the matter.” This would appear to include communications advocating a position on the Paxton impeachment, which is pending before the Texas Senate.
Sutarwalla is not the first person with ties to Paxton who is also tied to San Jacinto 2023. As reported by Patrick Svitek in the Texas Tribune, San Jacinto 2023 utilized the media buying firm Ax Media to purchase the television ads opposing the Paxton impeachment. Ax Media is an affiliate of Axiom Strategies, a political consulting firm used by Paxton. Svitek also first reported that a “non-attorney professional” of The Gober Group, a law firm that has done work for Paxton’s campaign, was listed as Treasurer of San Jacinto 2023 on documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission. An updated version of the Texas Tribune story stated that the individual was acting in the capacity as an independent contractor bookkeeper for Rightside Compliance, not the Gober Group, in the scope of her work for San Jacinto 2023. Rightside Compliance is an entity affiliated with Chris Gober of the Gober Group.