The Legislative Priorities Committee of the Republican Party of Texas recently endorsed a bill that would expose grassroots clubs and other organizations, candidates, and activists to potential civil penalties of at least $100,000 for making accidental or technical errors on campaign finance paperwork or submitting a campaign finance report late.
HB 2619, by State Representative Tony Tinderholt, would establish that “a person who commits an offense prescribed by the election laws of this state is liable to this state for a civil penalty” of not less than $100,000. Under the bill, the Attorney General would have the authority to bring a civil action to recover the civil penalty.
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While listed under the “Election Integrity” section of the Legislative Priorities Committee’s approved bill list, the scope of HB 2619 goes far beyond election offenses involving election fraud.
Many grassroots groups, such as Republican Women’s clubs, county political parties, and other organizations, are organized as political committees to ensure compliance with the Texas Election Code. These groups, often run by volunteers with little campaign finance law experience, can sometimes make mistakes when working to comply with all applicable sections of the Texas Election Code. Similarly, many candidates running for public office do not have the resources to hire campaign finance lawyers to advise them.
Common mistakes include filing incomplete or untimely campaign finance reports, which constitutes a criminal offense under Section 254.041 of the Texas Election Code. While crimes such as this are rarely, if ever, prosecuted, Tinderholt’s legislation would expose candidates and volunteer club leaders to $100,000 civil penalties. Potential liability for these penalties could have a chilling effect of preventing well-meaning citizens from running for office or becoming involved in a grassroots club.
Including HB 2619 on the Texas GOP Legislative Priorities Committee approved bill list highlights what critics within the Party believe are severe issues with how that committee operates. Some have criticized the committee’s processes for being slipshod, lacking transparency, and focused on the personal agendas of some committee members at the expense of passing conservative legislation.
At least one leader of the Texas GOP Legislative Priorities Committee has engaged in conduct that would be subject to a $100,000 penalty under Tinderholt’s bill. David Wylie, a State Republican Executive Committeeman who serves as the “Ban Democrat Chairs” sub-committee chair of the Legislative Priorities committee, is listed on the Texas Ethics Commission’s list of delinquent filers. The list indicates that Wylie currently owes the Texas Ethics Commission $2,500 in civil penalties arising out of his unsuccessful campaign for Chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party in 2016.