Texas Democratic Party v. King Street Patriots
Texas Democratic Party v. King Street Patriots is a challenge to Texas’s ban on corporate contributions and its disclosure requirements for political action committees.
A Texas state trial court and appellate court have heard the case and upheld the Texas campaign finance laws at issue. The case, now before the Texas Supreme Court, could find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. CLC has filed friend-of-the-court briefs at each stage of the case in support of the challenged provisions of Texas campaign finance law.
During the 2010 election, a Houston, Texas-based tea party group called the King Street Patriots (KSP) trained and dispatched poll watchers, allegedly in coordination with the Texas Republican Party. An offshoot from KSP has developed into a larger organization, True the Vote, which has taken the lead under the Trump Administration to investigate “voter fraud” in the 2016 Election.
In 2010, after KSP sent hundreds of observers to assist with poll watching, the Texas Democratic Party filed suit claiming that this effort represented an illegal in-kind corporate contribution to the Texas Republican Party and calling for the group to register and disclose its donors as a political committee.
KSP counterclaimed – challenging numerous provisions of Texas campaign finance laws, including the state restrictions on corporate contributions, and the disclosure and organizational requirements applicable to political committees. The parties have agreed to address the constitutionality of the laws first, before determining whether KSP violated the laws.
KSP is represented by James Bopp Jr., who is challenging campaign finance regulations nationwide. Bopp brought the landmark Citizens United v. FEC (2010) case.
A state district court rejected KSP’s challenge to Texas campaign finance law, and in Oct. 2014, the Third District Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court decision. On Nov. 10, 2015, CLC filed an amicus brief urging the Texas Supreme Court to affirm these decisions. Later on Feb. 8, 2017, the Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case.
UPDATE: On June 30, 2017, the Texas Supreme Court reaffirmed that corporate contribution restrictions are constitutional under binding Supreme Court precedent, and found that the state definitions of “political contribution” and “campaign contribution” are not unconstitutionally vague. The court declined to consider the facial constitutionality of the “political committee” definitions, finding that the challenge was premature and remanding for the lower court to rule on the plaintiffs’ as-applied challenges.
What’s at Stake?
This is a highly anticipated campaign finance case because it raises the question of whether corporate contribution restrictions are constitutional after Citizens United, which struck down a corporate expenditure restriction. If it reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, the case could also impact the federal corporate contribution ban and the laws of 21 other states that currently prohibit corporations from contributing money to candidates.
If KSP wins, it would also be a big victory for political “dark money,” and would open the floodgates to secret campaign contributions in the elections of the country’s second largest state. The case will either maintain Texas’s campaign finance laws or will go a long way towards dismantling them.