December 19, 2003
TRM fundraiser paid with corporate money

Remember how the Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, the one that helped elect a bunch of new Republicans to the state House so that Tom DeLay's redistricting do-over could be rammed through, claimed that they'd only ever used corporate money for overhead and not for campaign funds? Turns out that ain't necessarily so.

Texans for a Republican Majority has always offered a simple defense to allegations that it illegally used corporate money to help elect state legislators last year: No corporate dollars directly benefited candidates.

However, an Austin fund-raiser hired by the political action committee said that wasn't always so. Consultant Susan Lilly, whom the committee paid with corporate money, confirmed this week that she solicited, collected and distributed campaign donations in the name of individual campaigns for Republican candidates.

One-page documents that the committee gave to would-be donors at several fund-raising events, including ones headlined by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, said: "Contributions should be made to TRMPAC or directly to `(name of candidate) for State Legislature' and mailed to: 1005 Congress, Suite 310, Austin, Texas 78701." The address is that of Lilly & Co.

Separate documents were created for each of the two dozen campaigns that Texans for a Republican Majority was involved in. The briefings included an assessment of the race, the advantages of the Republican candidates and what the candidates needed to do to win. It also included an e-mail address for contacting the candidates.

A Travis County grand jury, already investigating the committee's use of corporate donations, will have to decide whether Lilly's joint fund raising for the committee and candidates violates state law, which bars the use of corporate money for electioneering.

So: Corporate money paid for a campaign consultant, who was hired to do campaign fundraising. Seems pretty straightforward, and therefore illegal. I do have to give TRM's John Colyandro credit for spreading around an impressive amount of fertilizer in his group's defense:

"It's inappropriate," said Colyandro, who promised to fix the error by updating the committee's campaign finance reports to the Texas Ethics Commission.

It's unclear how Texans for a Republican Majority will fix what it already has done. State law allows a political action committee to use corporate donations only to pay its administrative expenses, such as rent and office equipment.

Colyandro said former state Rep. Bill Ceverha, who was not paid by the committee, had used the briefings earlier to solicit money for the committee and the two dozen GOP candidates it supported. Because he wasn't being paid by the committee, Colyandro said, Ceverha could issue joint solicitations.

Ceverha said he recalled creating similar documents and assumes Colyandro's account is accurate.

Colyandro said he gave Ceverha's old fund-raising material to Lilly when Texans for a Republican Majority hired her to help with fund raising. Colyandro also said thatLilly would have no way of knowing that she was being paid with corporate money and therefore could not raise money in the name of individual candidates.

"I wouldn't put that on her," he said. "From what checking account she receives compensation is not for her to know."

Lilly said she did not know the source of the money being used to pay her.

Colyandro said that the joint solicitations might create an appearance of wrongdoing but that Texans for a Republican Majority did not intend to use corporate dollars to raise donations in the name of individual candidates.

"If that document was produced for our event, that was sloppy," Colyandro said. "Very, very sloppy."

Lilly said that when she received donations for candidates, she mailed them to the candidates' campaign with a cover letter signed by state Reps. Dianne White Delisi of Temple, and Beverly Woolley of Houston. Delisi and Woolley did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

The two lawmakers served on an advisory committee to Texans for a Republican Majority along with DeLay, then-Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza and Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano.

The advisory committee helped select the candidates supported by the political action committee, raised money and sometimes hand-delivered donations to candidates, according to Shapiro. But Shapiro said she was unaware that Texans for a Republican Majority was raising and spending corporate money until she read it in news reports after the election.

So what we have here is the "Oops!" defense, combined with the Ronald Reagan "I have no memory of that" gambit, all layered on top of a right-hand/left-hand knowledge gap. I pity the grand jury members who have to sort out the facts from the shinola.

Let's suppose, just for grins, that this is in fact irrefutable proof that corporate funds were illegally used in the 2002 elections. What's an appropriate remedy? Oh, you can fine TRM some amount, which will hopefullybe larger than the nuisance tax that was just imposed on John Ashcroft, but how exactly does that affect anything? Same thing with convicting a few consultants, or even John Colyandro. They'll take one for the team, since they know what the Big Picture was in all this. Now, it's certainly possible, maybe even likely, that no one was elected as a result of TRM's existence, but if just one outcome might have been different, then it almost doesn't matter if anyone winds up getting punished. Equity can't be restored. The cheaters will have won. And the hell of it is, short of mandating that all campaigns be publicly financed, which is something that even I don't endorse, I don't see a solution.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 19, 2003 to Scandalized! | TrackBack

if you don't endorse publicly financed campaigns what is your solution to getting corp dollars out of the political arena?

Posted by: Scooter on February 18, 2004 5:17 PM