February 17, 2004
More heat on Craddick

In the wake of yesterday's NYT article on the yearlong investigation into the Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, the Statesman reports that the evidence is mounting against the speaker.

The depth of Craddick's involvement is surprising because he has always contended that he had distanced himself from Texans for a Republican Majority except to headline a fund-raiser. He said he had wanted to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest between his campaign for speaker and the committee's goal of electing more Republicans.

Craddick was not the only Republican seeking the top job, and the committee was not publicly involved in the internal House race.

Before the 2002 election, Craddick had played a lead role in organizations similar to Texans for a Republican Majority.

For years, Craddick, the longest-serving Republican in the House, had tried to marshal Republican money to elect a GOP majority and unseat Democrat Pete Laney. When Craddick publicly stepped aside in 2002 to run as speaker, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and other Craddick allies took over that role.

The committee's own documents, however, show that Craddick remained involved at several levels.

In an e-mail, the committee's executive director, John Colyandro, wrote to an accountant that he had $100,000 to be distributed and that Dr. James Leininger, a big Republican donor, would be sending more money.

"You need to cut checks for the following total and have them FedEx'ed for Monday delivery to Tom Craddick. . .," Colyandro wrote.

The $152,000 from Texans for a Republican Majority was to be given to 14 legislative candidates. The donations ranged from $1,000 to $20,000 per candidate.

That was not the only time Craddick delivered money to candidates, according to the documents.

In a memo, Austin fund-raiser Susan Lilly, who was working for the committee, said Craddick distributed checks for the Union Pacific railroad's political action committee. Union Pacific sent $25,000 to 11 legislative candidates at the request of Texans for a Republican Majority.

According to e-mails between Lilly and Colyandro, Texans for a Republican Majority wanted to help distribute the railroad's money so it could get credit from the candidates for soliciting the donations.

Representatives with Union Pacific were not available for comment Monday.

Richter said he did not know why his boss was enlisted to deliver money to Republican candidates but said Craddick believed he had done nothing illegal.

McDonald suggested a motive. "I think Tom Craddick and TRMPAC wanted to make sure Tom Craddick got credit for delivering the money to the Republican candidates," McDonald said. "He wanted credit. He wanted the recipients to be beholden to him."

Texans for a Republican Majority raised $1.5 million for the 2002 elections, including $600,000 in corporate money, to help elect a Republican majority in the Texas House of Representatives. The GOP now controls the House 88 to 62.

Most of the corporate money was raised in Washington, D.C., by DeLay's corporate fund-raiser, Warren Robold.

"McDonald" is Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice. They have a long report on how all of the $195 million from the 2002 elections was raised, and were featured on NPR awhile back to discuss this case. Though they don't have anything specific to these recent reports, I was emailed the following press release from McDonald:

Today's New York Times report by Richard Oppel, Jr., delves deeper into the murky swamp underlying Texas' 2002 elections. The most troubling new finding is that Texas Speaker Tom Craddick apparently used Tom Delay's TRMPAC as a springboard to the speakership. Why else would TRMPAC use Craddick as a courier to dole out $152,000 to GOP House candidates?

To ensure that speaker candidates do not attempt to influence their colleagues' votes with special-interest money, Texas law (Chapter 302, Government Code)
requires speaker candidates to establish separate speaker committees that cannot finance the campaigns of other House members. The Times story suggests that Craddick may have sidestepped this law by using DeLay's TRMPAC as a proxy. This is all the more disturbing given that Craddick made DeLay's redistricting agenda the centerpiece of his first session as speaker.

The ongoing Travis County criminal investigation needs to get to the bottom of this quagmire. Texans have the right to know if their speaker cheated to get the job.

If someone does eventually go down for all this, no one can say they weren't warned ahead of time.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 17, 2004 to Scandalized! | TrackBack