June 23, 2003
In contempt

Two employees of the Texas Association of Business have been held on contempt charges for refusing to answer questions in the grand jury investigation of whether the TAB illegally used corporate funds in last year's elections.

As requested by lawyer Andy Taylor of Houston, state District Judge Mike Lynch has confined publicist Cathy DeWitt and lobbyist Jack Campbell to a room in the court. They could be sent to jail if Taylor doesn't get bail for them before Lynch is done with his list of cases for the day.

Taylor said earlier that the only way to get a higher court to consider the underlying case whether the business association must divulge the sources of $1.9 million of corporate money used for election-season ads is to have someone in custody.

For six months, Taylor has staved off the grand jury investigation with various appellate efforts. So far all of them have failed.

Earlier, they had reported to the courthouse to find out what their fate would be.

The employees, publicist Cathy DeWitt and lobbyist Jack Campbell, have refused to answer questions about the association's $1.9 million advertising campaign during last year's elections.

The grand jury is investigating whether the association illegally used corporate money to electioneer. Taylor has argued that the ads were protected by the First Amendment and beyond state regulation because they did not advocate the election or defeat of any candidates. Earle disputes that.

After the Republican sweep last November, association President Bill Hammond boasted of helping elect a business-friendly Legislature by raising corporate money and spending it on issue ads. Several losing Democratic candidates sued, and Earle began investigating.

Hammond has refused to identify the corporate donors.

Hammond and another TAB employee have also been cited for contempt. We'll see if they wind up getting detained as well.

Note that this is separate from, though perhaps related to, the Westar saga, which was tied to Tom DeLay's PAC Texans for a Republican Majority last week. TRM is also being investigated by Travis County DA Ronnie Earle while simultaneously being sued by failed Democratic candidates. Both TAB and TRM are in the news, but so far they appear to be separate issues. With DeLay, of course, all things are possible, so let's not be too sure about that just yet.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 23, 2003 to Scandalized! | TrackBack