Expenditures by the Nathan Hecht, Jeff Brown, and Phil Johnson Campaigns Appear to Violate State Law

February 6th, 2014, by Mark McCaig

Campaign finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission earlier this week by the campaigns of Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht and Justices Jeff Brown and Phil Johnson reflect expenditures by each campaign that may be in violation of Texas campaign finance laws. The Hecht, Brown, and Johnson campaigns each reported a $7,000 contribution to the Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) Political Action Committee. According to a report by blogger David Jennings of BigJollyPolitics.com, the contributions to the YCT PAC are for the purpose of subsidizing an “endorsement slate” mailer by the organization.

These contributions to the YCT PAC appear to be in violation of a state law. Section 253.1611(b) of the Texas Election Code states:

“A judicial candidate or a specific-purpose committee for supporting or opposing a judicial candidate may not use a political contribution to knowingly make political contributions to a political committee in connection with a primary election.”

These questionable contributions to the YCT PAC came just weeks after former Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina was sanctioned for similar activity. Medina, who was defeated in the 2012 Republican Primary, was recently ordered to pay $1,000 by the Texas Ethics Commission after the Commission found credible evidence that Medina violated section 253.1611(b) of the Texas Election Code, among other violations.

In addition to receiving $7,000 contributions from other candidates endorsed by YCT, the YCT PAC also reported a $12,000 contribution from the Empower Texans PAC. As we reported last month, Empower Texans (also known as Texans For Fiscal Responsibility) endorsed Hecht, Brown, and Johnson despite their organization’s stated endorsement policy requiring a candidate to complete a questionnaire to be eligible to receive an endorsement. After we raised questions about their endorsement process, Empower Texans altered their endorsement policy and acknowledged that Hecht, Brown, or Johnson had not completed a questionnaire or interviewed with their organization prior to receiving their endorsement. Hecht, Brown, and Johnson each face an opponent in the March 4th, 2014 Republican Primary.

The campaign finance report from the Hecht campaign reflecting a $7,000 contribution to the YCT PAC can be viewed here

The campaign finance report from the Brown campaign reflecting a $7,000 contribution to the YCT PAC can be viewed here

The campaign finance report from the Johnson campaign reflecting a $7,000 contribution to the YCT PAC can be viewed here

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Are “Texans For Fiscal Responsibility” Really “Texans For Judicial Activism”?

January 20th, 2014, by Mark McCaig

In 2004, voters in the City of Houston supported “Proposition 2”, a pro-taxpayer ballot referendum to cap city revenues. In a piece written shortly before Proposition 2 was voted on, prominent taxpayer advocate Bob Lemer wrote a piece in support of the referendum, comparing it to a “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” passed in Colorado in 1992 that resulted in significant benefits to that state’s economy.

Long story short- the powers that be at Houston City Hall did everything in their power to thwart the will of the voters that supported Proposition 2. This resulted in a group of concerned citizens having to sue the liberal city leadership and fight a battle at the courthouse on behalf of Houston taxpayers.

The legal battle lasted several years and ended up at the Texas Supreme Court. Finally, in 2011, the Texas Supreme Court issued a ruling. In a unanimous opinion (with one Justice not participating), the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the City of Houston and dismissed the lawsuit brought by the concerned citizens.

One might think the sort of pro-taxpayer advocacy engaged in by the supporters of “Proposition 2” would be right up the alley of the Austin advocacy group “Texans For Fiscal Responsibility” (also known as “Empower Texans”). However, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Texas elects its Supreme Court and two of the Justices that ruled against taxpayers in the “Proposition 2” lawsuit are up for re-election in 2014. Texans For Fiscal Responsibility, like many organizations, has announced a slate of endorsements in the 2014 primaries. On their website, Texans For Fiscal Responsibility states that “we will only consider endorsing candidates who return a signed questionnaire.” Indeed, their website features candidate questionnaires for a number of state offices on the ballot in 2014- but not for Texas Supreme Court.

Despite not publishing a candidate questionnaire for Texas Supreme Court candidates, Texans For Fiscal Responsibility just announced their endorsement of three incumbent Texas Supreme Court Justices- including two that against the taxpayer advocates. Even more curious is that when we reached out to representatives of two of the challengers to the endorsed Supreme Court Justices, they stated that they had never been asked by Texans For Fiscal Responsibility to fill out a candidate questionnaire or interview with their organization.

This raises several important questions. Did the Texas Supreme Court Justices who were endorsed by Texans For Fiscal Responsibility fill out a candidate questionnaire, which they claim is a prerequisite to receiving their endorsement? If so, was the candidate questionnaire made available to all candidates for Texas Supreme Court?

While “Texans For Fiscal Responsibility” positions itself as a grassroots conservative organization, they have engaged in some activity that is indicative of ties to the Texas political establishment. They should be open and transparent about the process they used to endorse candidates for the Texas Supreme Court and whether the process was fair and open to all candidates. Unfortunately, all signs point to their endorsements being a farce designed to benefit the incumbent Justices- even those with a proven record of ruling against taxpayers.

We will update this post with any new developments on this matter.

UPDATE: After our original post on this subject, Texans For Fiscal Responsibility altered their website to say that they only consider endorsing “candidates for legislative and executive office who return a signed questionnaire.” Now that it appears the Supreme Court incumbents they endorsed were indeed shown special treatment over other candidates for office, Texans For Fiscal Responsibility should explain to the public why these candidates were shown favoritism. Texans For Fiscal Responsibility should also say whether or not the challengers to the Supreme Court incumbents were given any opportunity to seek their endorsement.

We captured the candidate questionnaire section of their website before it was altered. You can view Texans For Fiscal Responsibility’s original standards for endorsements here.


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The Mark McCaig Show for 10/20/2013: Prop 6 and Spineless Leadership

October 25th, 2013, by Mark McCaig

This week on the Mark McCaig Show, Mark was joined by State Representative David Simpson (R-Longview) to discuss his opposition to Proposition 6 in the upcoming Constitutional amendment election. Later, Mark was joined by Congressman Steve Stockman to discuss the deal made to end the government shutdown and the importance of political involvement by principled conservatives.

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Tort Reform: Failing Average Texans for 10 Years

October 25th, 2013, by Mark McCaig

Supporters of the so-called “tort reform” agenda often point to Texas as an exemplar of the alleged success of laws that limit the ability of victims of medical malpractice to exercise their Constitutional right to a civil trial by jury.

The “tort reform” laws passed by the Texas legislature in 2003 have undoubtedly been a financial boon to the medical and insurance industries- the biggest proponents of such laws. Unfortunately, the financial windfalls realized by these politically powerful industries as a result of “tort reform” over the past decade have come directly from the pockets of countless voiceless Texans whose lives have been dramatically changed, if not ended, as a result of preventable medical errors.

Limits on the amount a victim of medical negligence can recover were sold to Texas voters as a way to prevent “frivolous” lawsuits from clogging Texas courts and running good doctors out of business. In reality, the arbitrary damage caps that now apply to medical malpractice lawsuits in Texas do absolutely nothing to deter truly meritless litigation.

A frivolous medical malpractice lawsuit filed in Texas today is worth exactly the same as what it was worth prior to 2003- nothing. Instead, these damage caps have the most adverse impact on those with legitimate claims who have been harmed the worst and whose cases would have the most monetary value but for “tort reform.”

Texas law has long allowed for severe sanctions, including the payment of attorney’s fees, against those who file frivolous lawsuits or otherwise abuse the judicial system. The intent of Texas’ “tort reform” laws was never to weed out just “frivolous” lawsuits, but rather to limit all medical malpractice lawsuits regardless of their merit.

Over the past decade, numerous Texans who have been harmed by medical errors have found themselves without recourse because “tort reform” has made it economically impossible for lawyers to accept legitimate medical malpractice cases. Many of these injured individuals are often forced to turn to public assistance programs, leaving taxpayers with the bill instead of the negligent medical provider.

The values of personal accountability and responsibility are frequently held up as core conservative principles. Indeed, most would agree that if one causes harm to another, even if by accident, they should be held accountable for their actions and fully compensate the injured party for the harm done to them. The passage of “tort reform” laws
in Texas has created a special class of citizens who no longer have to face the same consequences for their wrongdoing as the average Texan does.

The impact of Texas’ “tort reform” laws has also been the subject of several recent academic studies. One such study conducted by a group of researchers that included a well respected law professor at the University of Texas found that these “tort reform” laws had not measurably increased physician supply in Texas, debunking claims to the contrary by “tort reform” advocates. Another study by the same group of researchers found no evidence that Texas’ “tort reform” laws have decreased the cost of healthcare.

The Seventh Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right to a civil trial by jury. Just as the founding fathers trusted the wisdom of citizen juries to listen to the facts of a case and determine a just resolution, juries today should be trusted to determine an appropriate award in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

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The Mark McCaig Show for 10/13/2013: Keeping the Fight

October 20th, 2013, by Mark McCaig

This week, Mark discussed the continued government shutdown and the impact Ted Cruz has had on the Republican Party and the conservative movement nationwide.

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Voluntary Compensation Plans Must Remain Voluntary

September 27th, 2013, by Mark McCaig

Author’s note: The following originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman in response to an op-ed column by Texans For Lawsuit Reform President Dick Trabulsi.

Groups engaged in the tort reform movement in Texas, most notably the special interest group Texans for Lawsuit Reform, have spent many years looking for new ways to limit the constitutional rights of individuals who have been harmed by the wrongdoing of another. One proposal that has been recently promoted by tort reform advocates concerns legislation regarding so-called “voluntary compensation plans” that could be set up in the wake of a disaster such as an oil spill or a plant explosion.

There is nothing in the law that prevents a company from setting up a voluntary compensation plan after a disaster. In fact, there are several examples of where companies have set up such plans. Companies that have caused harm to others should be encouraged to quickly and fully compensate their victims. However, voluntary compensation plans should remain truly voluntary to protect the rights of injured parties.

Unfortunately, the scheme being proposed by the tort reform lobby cannot be described as truly voluntary for injured parties. Legislation supported by the tort reform lobby in the past legislative session dealing with voluntary compensation plans should give great pause to anybody concerned about the protection of constitutional rights, particularly the guarantee in the Texas Constitution that “all courts shall be open.”

For example, these bills included provisions that would put an injured party at great financial risk if they chose not to participate in a voluntary compensation plan and chose to exercise their constitutional right to seek a trial by jury. This legislation also included numerous other procedural hurdles that would prevent an injured party from being able to bring their case before a jury. Representatives of groups representing both plaintiffs and defense attorneys vigorously opposed these bills precisely due to the chilling impact they would have on the rights of an individual with a legitimate claim.

Advocates of tort reform defend such legislation by saying that it will streamline the claims process and prevent frivolous lawsuits. In a perfect world, a wrongdoer will immediately and fully pay those they have injured. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world, and all too often wrongdoers are more concerned about limiting their liability than they are about making sure their victims are made whole.

If the voluntary compensation plan proposals supported by the tort reform lobby were to become law, wrongdoers would have a perverse incentive to offer their victims inadequate payments from a voluntary compensation plan because of the tremendous financial risk the victim would face to exercise the constitutional right to seek justice in a courtroom.

Additionally, Texas has strong laws that rightfully prevent the filing of truly frivolous lawsuits. In the rare case where a frivolous lawsuit is filed, judges can and will impose severe sanctions including awards of attorney’s fees. Legislation regarding voluntary compensation plans will not prevent a single truly frivolous lawsuit from being filed in Texas.

The courthouse is often the last place where an injured person wishes to go in order to be fully compensated for the harm done to them. All too often, though, it is the only choice they have. While voluntary compensation plans may be beneficial to injured individuals in some cases, the public cannot depend on such plans to provide proper compensation in all instances.

Texans have seen their right to a civil trial by jury diminished numerous times in recent years under the guise of lawsuit reform. We must not allow a special interest push for “voluntary compensation plans” to further erode this fundamental constitutional right.

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The Mark McCaig Show for 9/22/13: Power Grabs and Texas Politics

September 24th, 2013, by Mark McCaig

This week on the Mark McCaig show, Mark was joined by Judson Phillips of Tea Party Nation. Mark and Judson discussed a new bill being supported by some Congressional Republicans that amounts to a Federal takeover of state courts in the name of “tort reform.” Later, Mark was joined by Scott Braddock of Quorum Report to discuss the upcoming 2014 election cycle.

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The Mark McCaig Show for 9/15/2013: Open Carry and Politcal Accountability

September 16th, 2013, by Mark McCaig

This week on the Mark McCaig show, Mark was joined by CJ Grisham of Open Carry Texas to discuss the recent arrest of 3 open carry activists outside the Texas capitol. Later, Mark was joined by League City Councilwoman Heidi Thiess to discuss a recent encounter she had with Congressman Pete Olson and the importance of holding elected officials accountable for their votes.

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The Mark McCaig Show for 9/1/2013: Liberty and Justice

September 3rd, 2013, by Mark McCaig

This week on the Mark McCaig Show, Mark was joined by Andrew Cochran of the 7th Amendment Advocate. Mark and Andrew discussed recent lawsuits filed by conservative organizations against the Obama administration and how 7th amendment rights are under attack across America by many of the same groups that helped push through Obamacare.

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The Mark McCaig Show for 8/25/2013: Come and Take It!

September 1st, 2013, by Mark McCaig

This week on the Mark McCaig show, Mark was joined by local Tea Party activist Kelly Horsley to discuss the new “Come and Take It!” program from FreedomWorks in response by attempts by former Obama staffers to turn Texas blue. Later, Mark discussed the recent scandal involving Lt. Governor David Dewhurst calling the Allen police department to get a relative released from jail.

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