Pro-Life Leader Clears the Air About Who’s a Lobbyist and Who Is Not
Undercurrents and key players in the fight for life
The battle playing out among the largest anti-abortion groups in Texas is difficult to understand without taking into consideration some of the undercurrents and becoming familiar with some of the key players in our great state’s politics. The widening rift between groups like Texas Right to Life and Texas Alliance for Life has much to do with differences in policy positions and endorsements of political candidates. But, it’s also about allied organizations of pro-life groups and who they support for Speaker of the Texas House, for example.
Texas Alliance for Life Executive Director Joe Pojman is an anti-abortion leader who strongly backs Speaker Joe Straus for reelection to that powerful post and he has increasingly been under attack because of it. Some vicious attacks have been lobbed at Pojman, both on this anonymously written website and, more recently, by Michael Quinn Sullivan. Sullivan serves as a spokesman for Empower Texans Chairman Tim Dunn.
Sullivan wrote on Breitbart Texas that Pojman is now supportive of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus because of a $50,000 donation to Texas Alliance for Life’s political activities. Sullivan has also attacked Speaker Straus for having received a $1,000 donation from Planned Parenthood. As Pojman pointed out in an op-ed of his own, an Empower Texans website features “a phony image of a $1,000 check from Planned Parenthood made out to Joe Straus.” Pojman also said the donation from Straus’ political operation was made years after the group had already started to support him. “Mr. Sullivan never explains how the Speaker could buy our support in 2011 with a donation to our PAC in 2014,” Pojman said.
These attacks from Sullivan are not unexpected. As mentioned previously, they are very similar to accusations made on an anonymous website called JoePojman.org. Perhaps not coincidentally, that site was launched shortly after Pojman took aim at Sullivan for lobbying at the Texas Capitol without registering, as required by law.
The Texas Ethics Commission, the agency that oversees this area of the law, found that Sullivan has illegally lobbied lawmakers for years and fined him $10,000. Sullivan is appealing that ruling in court, as is his right.
Back in August, Pojman said in this blog post that, unlike Sullivan, he registers as a lobbyist and doing so helps him be an effective advocate for pro-life issues:
…a lobbyist who is paid a six-figure salary by his non-profit organization was issued a stiff fine by the TEC for failing to register as a lobbyist. Although that lobbyist did register in 2008 and 2009, he failed to register the following two years, 2010 and 2011, and was fined $5,000 for each year. Here is the TEC’s Final Order. He claims the TEC should not enforce the lobby registration law because it is an ‘unconstitutional’ restriction on his right to free speech. Yet the TEC points out that the lobbyist “has not pointed . . . to any court decision that has held the Texas lobbyist registration statute to be unconstitutional” to back up that claim.
When I sat down with him in his Austin office, Pojman said he’s unsure of Sullivan’s motives for fighting the requirement to register as a lobbyist. Pojman said it’s clear that someone who does what Sullivan does for a living, that person should be registered.
“For several years he (Sullivan) did register as a lobbyist, but more recently, I believe those years are 2011 and 2012, he decidedly did not register as a lobbyist. One of the members of the Legislature made a sworn complaint about that issue,” Pojman said. That’s how the Ethics Commission ended up examining the case.
Sullivan’s refusal to register as a lobbyist has been the subject of some controversy, so Pojman felt the need to clear the air about it. There might be a misperception that registering to lobby is somehow a bad thing, Pojman said.
“I started thinking, you know, it’s a very simple process because we’re very similar to Empower Texans in the sense that we’re a 501(c)(4) organization that does lobby. He (Sullivan) lobbied by his own admission, at least for a few years,” Pojman said. “We have to register as a lobbyist. In fact, it costs $150. I do an application in January. The following January, I do one report. It takes all of about twenty minutes. It’s not an onerous process.”
Pojman also wanted to make it clear that the registration process for lobbying does not in any way keep the average Texans from talking to their lawmakers about their concerns.
“What is lobbying? Well if mom and pop from Dallas or San Antonio or the Valley or El Paso decide to get in their car and come to the Capitol because they want to support House Bill 2, they’re doing that on their own dime. No one is paying them to do it. That’s not lobbying under the law in such that you are required to be a lobbyist,” Pojman said. “You have to be paid. I’m an executive director, I’m paid to do this, and one of the things I do is lobby the Capitol. I have several staff that do that also, so we pay that $150 for each of us who lobby. We’re paid to do that more than I guess $500 every couple of months. There’s a threshold, and we meet that and so we file that report. This does not affect mom and pop. This does not limit them at all.”