On Thursday Democrats in Texas filed a lawsuit against the Speaker of the House and a right-wing activist for violating state election laws. The suit revolves around the key piece of evidence in the case: a secret audio recording of a June meeting between Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Empower Texans’ CEO, Michael Quinn Sullivan.
Sullivan, who recorded the meeting but refuses to release it publicly, alleges a quid pro quo: Bonnen provided government favors in exchange for negative campaign activity targeting 10 GOP House members.
“If that agreement was entered into,” said Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos in a statement, “it is illegal under Texas law.” Ramos filed the suit jointly with the Texas Democratic Party.
“The meeting between political actors intended to influence the election or defeat of specific candidates,” notes the party brief. “This meeting, and any agreements reached, resulted in the formation of a political committee, as defined by state law. Such political committee is required to be registered with an appointed treasurer and, upon information and belief, it is not.”
The secret audio recording is perhaps the most sought after political information in Texas politics among journalists, lawmakers in both parties, and activists. The select few lawmakers–those friendly with Sullivan who have listened to the recording — say it would hurt the Republican Party in the state.
In a Thursday tweet, Sullivan said he was being victimized by Texas Democrats for blowing the whistle on Bonnen and said he looked forward “to kicking Donkey butt in court.”
With legal action now pending, Sullivan is likely to be prohibited from destroying the recording.
“When there’s evidence of wrongdoing, it needs to be preserved,” Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Manny Garcia told The Signal. He said the party’s litigation included a request for the tape to be produced in court.
“Ultimately, this is about transparency and accountability,” Garcia said. “We believe that Texas taxpayers deserve to know what is being done in their government on their dime. This happened in the Texas Capitol. This is the top echelons of Texas’ government talking with a dark money operative about how to accomplish certain goals.”
The Texas House is scheduled to hold a public hearing on Monday concerning Bonnen’s alleged actions.