January 26, 2008
LaRhonda Torry reinstated to primary ballot

Via Carl Whitmarsh's email list, the State Supreme Court has ruled that LaRhonda Torry, who had filed to run against State Rep. Garnet Coleman in HD147, should be restored to the ballot. I wasn't aware that the First Court of Appeals had taken action yet, but they had done so a day after they received a response from Harris County Democratic Party Chair Gerry Birnberg. Where the Court of Appeals denied Torry's writ without comment, the Supremes addressed the arguments:

Birnberg explained that when Torry submitted her application, she did not have a campaign treasurer appointment on file with the Texas Ethics Commission as the Election Code requires. See id. § 252.005(1)(E). Birnberg further stated that the Election Code forbids a candidate: (1) from making a campaign expenditure or accepting a campaign contribution at a time when a campaign treasurer appointment is not in effect; and (2) from accepting a cash contribution exceeding $100. See id. §§ 253.031(a), 253.033(a). Birnberg concluded that, as a result of these Election Code violations, Torry could not have lawfully paid her filing fee. Torry has since appointed a campaign treasurer.


We cannot locate, and Birnberg does not identify, any Election Code provision that authorizes a party chair to refuse to certify a candidate's name for placement on the ballot on the basis of the candidate's failure to designate a campaign treasurer with the Texas Ethics Commission. Nor does the Election Code authorize a party chair to insert additional certification requirements beyond those prescribed in the Election Code.

Birnberg is correct that the Election Code requires a candidate for state representative to appoint a campaign treasurer and report that appointment to the Texas Ethics Commission. Id. §§ 252.001, 252.005(1)(A). Neither statute prescribes a penalty for a candidate's noncompliance with those provisions. Birnberg is also correct in asserting that, pursuant to section 253.031(a), a candidate may not "knowingly accept a campaign contribution or make or authorize a campaign expenditure at a time when a campaign treasurer appointment for the candidate is not in effect" and that a violation of that provision is a Class A misdemeanor. Id. § 253.031(a), (f). Additionally, a candidate may not knowingly accept from a contributor in a reporting period a cash contribution that in the aggregate exceeds $100. Id. § 253.033(a). Assuming, without deciding, that Torry violated sections 253.031(a) and 253.033(a) of the Election Code in paying the filing fee, the Penal Code would provide for any appropriate penalty. The Election Code does not authorize Birnberg, as a county party chair, to prescribe his own penalty for a candidate's failure to comply with any of these provisions.

Seems a bit odd that someone could break the law in the manner described yet still be considered qualified for the ballot, but apparently that's how the Court sees it. I guess that's something for the Lege to address. Our laws sure are weird sometimes.

No news in the Wendy Davis matter. QR opined that "odds are the battle is over" after the Second Court of Appeals ruled that the firefighters who challenged her had no standing to do so. We'll see.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 26, 2008 to Election 2008

So, the Court confirms the Texas Ethics Commission is toothless and worthless:

"Neither statute prescribes a penalty for a candidate's noncompliance with those provisions."

Whether it's the Legislature's fault or the fault of the TEC, this expensive commission is not serving to protect elections, keeping politicians honest or providing for transparency in campaign donations and expenditures.

The Commission should be abolished. We need a do over.

Posted by: Martha Griffin on January 26, 2008 9:58 AM