Friday, March 30, 2012

Exercise Caution when Reading about Recent Ruling on King Street Patriots

One might say that there is some kind of political battle "brewing" in Texas, one involving the Texas Democratic Party and a nonprofit organization known as King Street Patriots, Inc., described in the media as a Tea Party group.  As if this dispute needs any more drama, it appears that the press coverage of a recent ruling in the litigation reflects more than a little misunderstanding of the nature of the ruling.
 
Here is what the Houston Chronicle says, in the opening two sentences of its story, Judge Rules Tea Party Group a PAC, not a Nonprofit:

A Travis County district court judge ruled this week that a Houston-based tea party group is not a nonprofit corporation as it claims, but an unregistered political action committee that illegally aided the Republican Party through its poll-watching efforts during the 2010 elections.

The summary judgment by Judge John Dietz upheld several Texas campaign finance laws that had been challenged on constitutional grounds by King Street Patriots, a tea party organization known for its "True the Vote" effort to uncover voter fraud.

The article also quotes an attorney for the Texas Democratic Party as saying that “the court's ruling meant the King Street Patriots would be ordered to reveal its political activities and to pay the plaintiffs' economic damages equal to twice the amount of the Patriots' expenditures and contributions.”

The puzzler is that, to the best of my knowledge, the ruling does no such thing.  I have read it.  The first sentence in the story in the Chronicle is unsupported by the summary judgment declarations.  (At least the story's second sentence excerpted above correctly reports the essence of the judge's declarations.)

The declarations made by the judge, which uphold the constitutionality of several provisions of the Texas Election Code, do not reach the merits of the underlying causes of action raised against King Street.  What’s more, I would expect those merits not to be addressed as long as the constitutional issues are litigated through the appeals process.  I further expect a lengthy appeals process. 

What should one make of this report?  For now, all I will say is, it looks like someone has prematurely crashed a tea party!

JRB

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/nonprofit/2012/03/exercise-caution-when-reading-about-recent-ruling-on-king-street-patriots.html

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