The Institute for Free Speech (IFS) filed a federal lawsuit against the Texas Ethics Commission’s (TEC) commissioners and executive director over the TEC’s ban on pro bono legal services for candidates and political committees. This ban stops organizations like IFS from advocating for the civil rights of such clients, imposing stiff civil and criminal penalties for violations.

Texas law prohibits corporations—including nonprofits like IFS—from making “in-kind contributions” to candidates and political committees. The TEC recently interpreted this ban to extend to pro bono litigation services, even when such services aim to challenge the constitutionality of state laws.

The lawsuit argues that the TEC’s interpretation violates IFS’ First Amendment rights to free speech and association. The TEC’s reading of the law prevents IFS from representing parties like Chris Woolsey, a city councilmember in Corsicana, and the Texas Anti-Communist League PAC, headed by Cary Cheshire, both of whom want to contest a state law that compels speech on political signs.

“By threatening to enforce this ban, Texas is censoring speech and protecting itself from litigation,” said Del Kolde, Senior Attorney for the Institute for Free Speech. “Our lawsuit aims to restore freedoms of speech and association for nonprofit corporations in Texas.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, seeks declaratory and injunctive relief against enforcement of the corporate contribution ban as applied to pro bono legal services.

To read our full press release about the case, Institute for Free Speech v. J.R. Johnson, et al., click here.

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