As the old adage goes, if you can’t beat ‘em … annoy them mercilessly.
Retribution waged by the right wing against anyone and everyone in support of the City’s recently passed LGBT non-discrimination ordinance continues in full force. The measure, meant to codify equal protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents in areas like hiring, firing and public accommodations, spurred threats, boos and hate-filled screeds from opponents during public debate. Unfortunately for them, the misinformation and vitriol didn’t achieve the ordinance’s demise.
Despite the NDO’s approval by a majority vote, religious and conservative organizations—which stand sorely defeated in their pursuit to strip basic rights away from the LGBT community—have resurrected the fight with the remaining weapons left in their arsenal, with low-to-undetermined degrees of success.
While their ongoing effort to unseat council members who voted in favor of the ordinance lives on, another, direct attempt to repeal the NDO by petition completely by placing it on a citywide ballot for voters died last week when a group of more than 50 local churches, led by adamant NDO critic Pastor Gerald Ripley, failed to gather enough signatures by the deadline.
The latest move to bring down LGBT rights supporters is less overt, yet equally vengeful.
Just 11 days after the NDO’s passage, a complaint alleging San Antonio Stonewall Democrats (SDSA) violated campaign finance law surfaced with the Texas Ethics Commission, the state agency in charge of enforcing election code. The localized chapter of Stonewall’s LGBT advocacy group promoted and actively testified for the ordinance. At first blush it would seem hasty to automatically assume the act is politically motivated. After all, the timing could be an unrelated coincidence.
However, Elena Guajardo, SDSA co-chair and former SA city council member, believes otherwise. The timeline of the allegations speak for itself, she says.
So who’s behind the complaint? The benignly titled Texas Ethics Advisory Board, a political action committee not to be confused with a state-funded regulatory body. The loosely knit PAC is comprised of anywhere between five to 10 Texans who vigilantly monitor campaign finance reports for instances of malfeasance.
On its face, TEAB’s mission sounds egalitarian, impartial and even honorable. Jim Doyle, who lodged the grievance, first makes the case there’s no real rhyme or reason to who the PAC targets, “we just find things that attract our attention,” he told the Current last week in a phone interview. The goal is to simply uncover corruption. “People need to scrutinize the politicians they elect and see who’s trying to influence them,” Doyle says.
Yet, when pressed further, the group’s ideological intentions become clear.
“We kind of go after any of these people who support leftist candidates, especially,” admits Doyle. “And they are, I believe, homosexuals. And homosexuals are completely united politically and everybody else is not. You see? And that’s why they are as successful as they’ve been for such a small number of people in the population. So we wanted to check them out especially to see whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it according to the law. Because they are united in such a way that it’s almost a conspiracy to impose their will politically on society.”
Doyle went on to gripe about the inequity posed by the LGBT community’s solidarity–it’s unfair how they are able to protect each other and promote their causes by standing together politically, he argued. This way, the cohesive front has an advantage over average Joe who may not find himself as part of a larger organization. (Hmm.A larger organizationlike a political action committee that goes after groups that don’t align with their own political beliefs?)
As for the NDO, Doyle says he is heartily opposed to the “special protections and attention” given to the LGBT community and can’t quite fathom why the city council caved under pressure. “If a person doesn’t like a certain group of people, that’s his business not the city council’s. Actually, I think we just need to change the whole city council over there,” said Doyle, a Tea Party activist who resides in the Woodlands, a suburb North of Houston.
The proposed attempt wouldn’t be his first foray into confronting COSA.
Following the passage of domestic partner benefits by SA city council, Doyle and the TEAB began investigating council members and ultimately flooded the Texas Ethics Commission with more than 1,000 complaints of campaign finance violations. The group writes, “In this case, the approval by the San Antonio City Council of spousal benefits for homosexual couples brought scrutiny by the above mentioned complainants.”(According to TEC records, the complaints have not resulted in the issuance of violations to any members as of now.)
The group similarly investigated the Austin City Council when they voted to boycott business with Arizona after the state passed a harsh anti-immigration law, and Planned Parenthood, for, in Doyle’s words, promoting “baby killing.”
In a one-two right-wing punch, 2010 TEAB sent mailers to Planned Parenthood Houston donors notifying them of the TEC complaints they filed against the organization while also attacking openly gay Houston Mayor Anise Parker’s partner—the reproductive rights group’s PAC treasurer at the time. In selecting Parker for mayor, voters “endorse both homosexuality AND baby killing,” the letter reads.
To be fair, the watchdog group has also gone after Republicans like state House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) during the effort to banish him from office and former state Rep. Rob Eissler (R-Woodlands)—it just so happens both men have come under criticism for not legislating conservatively enough.
“It’s quite evident that if there is a legislator or issue that doesn’t fit with them they’ll go after campaign finance reports,” Guajardo said.
So, who or what is the PAC going to tackle next? “Different ethnic groups that want to influence people,” Doyle said.
You get the point.
Overall, it’s difficult to ascertain how many complaints TAEB have filed in total because Texas confidentiality laws prohibit TEC from disclosing who sends the complaints. Tim Sorrells, TEC general counsel says the agency is even barred from acknowledging if a complaint exists—it only becomes publicly available when the commission finds the problem severe enough to warrant a violation.
But Doyle estimates 90 percent of the ones TAEB filed end up in fines or at least, “a slap on the wrist.”
Among the claims, the TEAB specifically alleges the Stonewall Democrats, “did not disclose political contributions and political expenditures,” and did not “include the principal occupation of each person from whom political contributions, that in the aggregate exceeded $50, were accepted during a reporting period.”
Doyle confesses the suspected violations he found “aren’t the most important” infractions one can go after, but that they’re significant enough to elicit TEC’s attention.
Guajardo describes the charges as “nitpicky and baseless.” She points to one allegation that takes the group to task for reversing information regarding occupation and employer—human error tantamount to not crossing a T, she says. Nevertheless, they are willingly complying and have prepared an “extensive” response to the state.
“We as a group are very respectful and mindful of the need to be fully transparent and accountable in our financial reporting,” she said.
Guajardo, the first openly gay city council member in San Antonio, says TEAB’s motive is born from dissatisfaction with the recent progress made in LGBT equality.
“They are not happy and this is one way they show their discontent,” she said.
In the post-NDO fallout, discontented conservative groups like TEAB have managed to shed an even brighter light on their true purpose for opposing the non-discrimination ordinance. If they don’t succeed in shaming politicians and interest groups for supporting causes other than their own, they’ll find other ways to attempt a public shaming, like lobbing ethics complaints from the petty to profound.
One piece of advice Doyle imparted that we’re inclined to agree with: You have to check on political groups and elected officials because sometimes they’re “too ideological.”
No complaints there.