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TX Sunset Review Board Touches the Third Rail
Close observers of politics may have heard a hush settle over Austin on November 20 of this year. That was the day that the Sunset Review Board let out what the Austin American Statesman describes as the “most severe and rarest outcome of the state’s Sunset process of periodically reviewing state agencies” when its staff “in a blistering report, [wrote that] the dollars spent by the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission largely have been a waste” and recommended that the Commission be abolished.
The Sunset Review Board has done the unthinkable and our hats are off to them. To borrow from Jim Croce, “you don’t tug on superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask of the old lone ranger, and you don’t mess around with” AIPAC.
What is the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission, where did it come from, why has the Sunset Review Board recommended that its funding be cut off, and what could any of this ever have to do with AIPAC?
Back in 2009, under the leadership of Speaker Joe Straus (who is Jewish) the Legislature was creating the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THGC) “to advise, assist, and support others in educating Texans about the Holocaust and other genocides.” No politicians campaigned for or against creating a Holocaust commission with the voters, this commission was created for the donors. But the fact that the Texas voters hadn’t asked their representatives to create an agency to lecture them on the Holocaust only shows that they needed one.
Ten years later, while you were still paying your property taxes, the THGC was up for review by the Sunset Review Board. This agency audits state agencies and makes recommendations to the legislature about whether it continues to make sense to fund the agencies under review.
When the Sunset staff opened the hood of the THGC, it must have been hard for them to contain themselves. Bureaucrats are forbidden from using profanity in such reports, but this is the equivalent:
The review revealed a disorganized and unsupervised advisory body that has exceeded its statutory authority, neglected some of its original advisory duties, and increased its reliance on general revenue by nearly 1,000 percent, without clearly articulated goals. The Friends of THGC, the affiliated nonprofit created to fund the commission’s projects, grants, and activities, has donated $10,000 to the commission for one project, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for the commission’s $3.2 million in expenditures in fiscal years 2010–19.
In demonstrating the merits of the staff’s position, the report notes that with regard to hiring, that the agency was envisioned as having one part-time employee, but now has 5 full-time employees over whom the state has no oversight with regard to performance or pay.
The staff report does not name names, but we will name one. Executive Director Joy Nathan currently leads the THGC. In 2019, she was hired at a salary of $85,600 of your property taxes. Prior to leading this state agency, Nathan worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) “a lobbying group that advocates pro-Israel policies” and as Chief Advancement Officer for Shalom Austin, “the hub of Jewish life in Central Texas.” With a wealth of experience in lobbying for Israeli policies and raising money for Jewish causes, Nathan is obviously well qualified to lead THGC.
But, despite Nathan’s background in lobbying and fundraising, the THGC has not been successful in educating the public. For instance, it’s website contains an impressive glossary of Holocaust and Genocide terms, however, only a few include definitions. It has put on few events. Also absent is any way of measuring how well the commission achieved its goal of lecturing Texans about the Holocaust. They’ve not even gotten their “Friends” to help out.
The Friends of the THGC is an entity which is a non-profit organization that was created so that the state would authorize the THGC to give out money in the way of grants and such. The Friends were supposed to match the THGC, but they haven’t quite gotten around to that. The accounting of the Friends of THGC is a bit murky. This writer is by no means an expert in IRS filings, but it seems as though the Friends told the IRS in years 2010 – 2016 that they had received less than $25,000 (the threshold for providing a transparent return) but in their 2017 return, the Friends disclosed that they had received significantly larger amounts than that in the previous several years. But what are such trifles among Friends? The point is that although the Friends have about $170,000 in assets, they have only given $10,000 to the THGC. That’s okay though, Texans pay plenty of property taxes and although we don’t like spending them on Holocaust lectures, our legislators know that it is good for us.
We will not chronicle the many failings of the THGC here, you should read the report yourself. It’s all there, the case is made. But will it matter? Has the Sunset Review Board simply tugged on Superman’s cape, has it spit into the wind?
That question is answered by Craig Goldman, a state representative with pockets so deep that he was the only candidate who Governor Abbott personally campaigned for in 2020. According to the alleged slumlord, “as a Jewish member of the body, this is a wake up call for me. And as a member of the Sunset Commission, I’m going to do everything in my power to see that it’s fixed, but not removed.”
Goldman has no conflict of interest in both being a member of the THGC’s board and sitting on the Sunset Commission which reviews it, and he obviously represents the interests of the average Joe in Texas.
With limited government advocates like Goldman, the odds are that rather than go away, the THGC will come back bigger and badder than ever. Although many legislatures will know that this is a complete misuse of taxpayer money, how many of these stalwarts of libertarian principles or fiscal responsibility will oppose it? After all, better to just go with the flow than risk being called an “anti” something-or-other.
The public has a chance to comment now through December 18th, but if you really want to make a difference, you will need to hire at least a legislator or two.