Thursday, November 5, 2015

Texas: 5th Circuit rules that churches can start recalls and form super PACs to launch recalls

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that churches and other nonprofits are allowed to lead an effort to recall an official and form a super PAC (where they would pool their money, but not coordinate with any candidate). The decision seems to have rejected the 2012 state appellate court ruling that tossed out an attempt by congregants to recall the mayor and city council of El Paso.

The ruling came out of the political movements by some churches who were upset over perceived pro-gay city ordinances adopted in 2013 in San Antonio and Houston. The churches planned to launch recalls against San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and the city council and against Houston Mayor Annise Parker, though both recalls were rejected by Election officials. As a side note, the delay did kill these recall efforts -- Castro is no longer mayor, and Parker was just term-limited out.

The decision seems to reject Texas Election Code Section 253.094(b), though it doesn't explicitly strike it down as unconstitutional, because the court rules that the churches don't have standing:

Here's the statute: “A corporation or labor organization may not make a political contribution in connection with a recall election, including the circulation and submission of a petition to call an election.”

And here's an applicable point from the ruling:
Despite this statutory language, the Commission has consistently taken the position, as asserted in its appellate brief, that in light of our precedent, it cannot and does not enforce Section 253.094(b) “to prohibit Plaintiffs, or any other corporation in Texas, from making ‘political contributions’ to entities registered as direct-campaign-expenditure-only political committees.” 

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