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Opinions

Cumulative Digest of Ethics Advisory Opinions

2021


2021 Opinions

EAO No. 559 (2021) – When asked to consider whether a specific written communication constitutes political advertising for purposes of the Election Code, we view the communication as a whole. A significant factor in determining whether a particular communication is a political advertisement is whether it provides information without promoting a public officer or measure.

The mere fact that a communication includes an express disclaimer of support or opposition is not determinative. However, the specific communications considered in this opinion are not political advertisements for purposes of section 255.003 of the Election Code because they are entirely informational and do not include any advocacy.

EAO No. 560 (2021) – When asked to consider whether a specific written communication constitutes political advertising for purposes of the Election Code, we view the communication as a whole. The mere fact that the name of a public officer appears in a written communication does not determine whether the communication constitutes political advertising, but the context and frequency with which it appears are relevant to making that determination.

The written communications considered in this opinion constitute political advertisements because they identify a public officer as such, include his name in a conspicuous manner, and promote the officer by crediting him with funding a public resource that is paid for by the political subdivision. Rather than being primarily informational, the primary purpose of the communications appears to be to support the incumbent official.

EAO No. 561 (2021) – Section 255.003(a) of the Texas Election Code does not apply to district judges because they are not officers or employees of political subdivisions.

Section 39.02(a)(2) of the Penal Code prohibits judges from using their courtrooms to create political advertisements, but not from repurposing material that is created lawfully.

EAO No. 562 (2021) – Communications published on social media websites are “mass media communications” for purposes of Section 305.006(c) of the Texas Government Code. Consequently, lobbyists registered under Chapter 305 of the Texas Government Code must report their expenditures for advertisements on social media (sometimes called social media “boosts”) if the communications support or oppose or encourage another to support or oppose pending legislation or administrative action.

A mass media communication can support or oppose pending legislation even if it does not include the phrase “support/oppose this legislation” or similar words or phrases such as “vote for,” “vote against,” “defeat,” or “reject.” A communication supports or opposes pending legislation if, when viewed as a whole, it would lead one to reasonably believe that its purpose was to support or oppose the pending legislation.


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