Hearing to compel TxDOT to hand over documents regarding illegal lobbying


TURF court hearing to compel TxDOT to hand over documents regarding illegal lobbying
TxDOT stalled document inspection by two weeks then left out half of the documents; TxDOT fights to keep Chair Ric Williamson from being deposed under oath

In Travis County District Court before Judge Orlinda Naranjo on Thursday, December 20, 2007, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) will ask the Judge to compel the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to hand over documents regarding its involvement in lobbying the U.S. Congress, the Texas Legislature, and other local elected officials.

WHO: Texas taxpayers through TURF
WHAT: Lawsuit seeking injunction to halt TxDOT’s taxpayer-funded illegal ad campaign & lobbying activities
WHEN: Thursday, December 20, 2007@ 2 PM
WHERE: Travis County District Court before Judge Orlinda Naranjo, 1000 Guadalupe, Austin, Texas
HOW: The press needs to register request for cameras in the courtroom in advance through the court clerk. Contact Warren Vavra at (512) 854-9093 for more information. A pool camera has been allowed in previous hearings.

This lawsuit is brought pursuant to § 37, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. TxDOT’s expenditure of public funds for the Keep Texas Moving campaign is illegal, and an injunction prohibiting any further illegal expenditures in this regard.

TxDOT has violated § 556.004 of the Texas Government Code by directing the expenditure of public funds for political advocacy in support of toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor, and have directly lobbied the United States Congress in favor of additional toll road programs as evidenced in its report, Forward Momentum as well as the Texas Legislature when it tried to defeat HB 1892, a private equity toll moratorium bill.

October 18, 2007, Judge Naranjo granted TURF a 90 day continuance and allowed them to move to discovery and take depositions (http://texasturf.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=262&Itemid=26). On Monday, September 24, Judge Naranjo did not grant a temporary restraining order (TRO). TxDOT unearthed a law that says they can advertise toll roads (Sec 228.004 of Transportation Code) and the citizens invoked another that says they can’t (Chapter 556, Texas Government Code). The burden to obtain a TRO is higher than for an injunction.

“TxDOT is waging a one-sided political ad campaign designed to sway public opinion in favor of the policy that puts money in TxDOT’s own coffers. School Boards cannot lobby in favor of their own bond elections, and yet TxDOT cites its own special law to line their own pockets at taxpayers’ expense,” says Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.

Hall also notes that TxDOT’s campaign goes beyond mere advertising, “It’s propaganda and in some cases, the ads blatantly lie to the public! In one radio ad (scroll down to "continuing maintenance"), it claims it’s not signing contracts with non-compete agreements in them and yet last March TxDOT inked a deal with Cintra-Zachry for SH 130 (read about it here) that had a non-compete clause (which either prohibits or financially punishes the State for building competing infrastructure with a toll road).”

On August 22, 2007, TURF filed a formal complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle to investigate TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and asked him to prosecute TxDOT for criminal wrongdoing. See the formal complaint here. The petition seeks immediate injunctive relief in a civil proceeding.

To read about TURF’s victory in court October 18 and to read TURF’s amended petition and supplemental affidavits go here.. (Scroll to the bottom for links to the petition and affidavits)