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Relating to the use of governmental communications systems to distribute political advertising; providing a civil penalty.
No significant fiscal implication to the State is anticipated.
SB 904 would prohibit an officer or employee of a political subdivision from knowingly spending or authorizing the spending of public funds, including by use of government communications systems (including electronic communications), for political advertising. It would also prohibit a person, political campaign, or advocacy group from misusing government resources by causing political advertising to be delivered to an email address issued by this state or by a political subdivision. For each government-issued email address receiving an email in violation of these bill provisions, the person sending the email would be liable for a civil penalty of $100 if: (1) the attorney general, a district attorney, or a county attorney notified the person that an email was delivered in violation of these bill provisions, and (2) after receiving the notice, the person delivered an email in violation of these bill provisions to the same email address.
Texas Action opposes SB 904 because it infringes upon principles of limited government and individual liberty.
While we applaud the effort to ensure that public funds are not misused for the purpose of political advertising, the provisions of this bill pertaining to third party communications is problematic. These provisions appear to be content-based restrictions, meaning that they discriminate against speech based on the substance of what it communicates. Under Reed v. Town of Gilbert, strict scrutiny should be applied by the court when a law is content-based on its face. Under strict scrutiny, a law must be narrowly tailored to further a compelling government interest--a test which these provisions would undoubtedly fail. Nothing requires the receiver of the unwanted political advertising emails to open and read the email, nor is there any apparent waste of government resources in allowing these emails to be sent.
Should the provisions pertaining to third party communications be deleted, we would support this bill.