Here’s a message to charitable organizations from U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks of the Western District of Texas: You can use bingo revenue to engage in political advocacy. Sparks was loud and clear in an order on Oct. 28 when he found that provisions of the Texas Bingo Enabling Act that prohibit a charity from using bingo proceeds to support political candidates and from lobbying are unconstitutional. Sparks reiterated his view in another order on Dec. 14, when he denied several motions filed by the defendants in Austin Division Department of Texas, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, et al. v. Texas Lottery Commission, et al. Sparks denied the defendants’ motions to stay the case; to modify or reconsider the preliminary injunction; and to order the plaintiffs to post a security bond. Sparks did not mince words in the Dec. 14 order when he wrote that the defendants’ argument that the Bingo Enabling Act does not target political speech is “laughable and borders on frivolous.” Anatole Barnstone, a solo practitioner in Austin who represents the plaintiffs, says they are pleased with Sparks’ Dec. 14 order. He says his clients will lobby before the Texas Legislature beginning next month because they fear legislation to authorize casino gambling in Texas would harm bingo proceeds. Barnstone says his clients have pooled their money and created a half-million-dollar fund for political advocacy. Tom Kelley, a spokesman for the Texas Office of the Attorney General, which represents the defendants, says, “We are reviewing the ruling. We haven’t made a decision on appeal yet.” The defendants, who were sued in their official capacity, include Gary Grief, executive director of the Texas Lottery Commission; Phillip Sanderson, director of the commission’s charitable bingo division; and commission members Mary Ann Williamson and J. Winston Krause.
-- Brenda Sapino Jeffreys