The cost of compliance: Regulating nonprofits into silence

A Court of Appeals justice recently stated: “I believe the touchstone of the First Amendment is to protect political speech.”  I could not agree more.  The genesis of the First Amendment stemmed from our founders’ desire to protect citizen speech from government coercion.  Unfortunately, this basic tenet of our American creed is in danger in Texas, thanks to certain legislators and bureaucrats who feel threatened by nonprofit organizations advocating for policy changes.


In recent years, Texas Right to Life has vigorously defended our First Amendment rights to comment on legislation, to comment on the stances of elected officials and candidates, and to comment on what happens and doesn’t happen during each and every legislative session. 


Pro-Life voters across Texas have become increasingly reliant on Texas Right to Life, and their focus is more determined on ousting men and women with an “R” behind their name who feign Pro-Life positions.  As a result, the remaining left branch of Republicans, fearful of constituents seeing their true colors, have feverishly pursued legislation to silence us through a rogue state agency, the Texas Ethics Commission, to prevent Texas Right to Life and like-minded organizations from reaching Pro-Life voters. 


A slew of agency “rules” concocted by eight unelected men and women have restricted the free speech of Texas Right to Life; these rules have the force and effect of binding law on Texas citizens.  Within the past eighteen months, this commission has adopted rules that limit to whom we can speak, what words we can use, how much we spend to say these words, and with which equipment or office supplies we can do so.  The rules are so murky that this is no exaggeration.


Such preposterous “reforms” only squelch speech by increasing the compliance costs, causing people to instead simply opt not to speak at all.  The burdens associated with commenting on the government become so onerous that the citizenry actually stops speaking freely. 


As Texas Right to Life’s in-house counsel, I prefer to spend my time in consultation with constitutional lawyers, exploring new ways to dismantle Roe v. Wade.  However, due to the TEC, I must reallocate my time to these absurd assaults on freedom of speech.  Our team routinely has to decide between remaining silent or telling Pro-Life citizens about their anti-Life state representative and then dealing with the undoubtedly forthcoming legal attacks from political operatives through a state agency.  And our donors would have to pay the resulting litigation costs. 


Texas Right to Life staff and donors work for and support Texas Right to Life because we seek to right the injustices upon the preborn, people with disabilities, and the elderly.  Unfortunately, liberal Republicans in state government do not want Texas Right to Life telling their disabled constituents that these are the very officials who jeopardize their lives.  So these liberals who face challengers in the Republican primary try to limit how we can share their voting records and their actions with voters, what words we can use, how we pay for these communiqués, and how/if we must report these activities to the very agency trying to silence us with contrived rules.


This is Texas, not California.  Who knew that we would be battling for even the right to speak about Life in Texas?  Well, we are. 

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