The ongoing grand jury investigation into potential illegal use of corporate campaign donations by the Texans for a Republican Majority has reached into the Governor's office.
The Texas Association of Business and Texans for a Republican Majority had much in common even before a grand jury began investigating allegations that both groups illegally spent corporate money in 2002 legislative campaigns.
Both groups spent unprecedented amounts of corporate money in election activities. Both targeted the same two dozen legislative seats that were crucial to the Republican takeover of the Legislature.
And in the weeks leading to the November elections, leaders of both groups met with lobbyist Mike Toomey -- now Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff -- to discuss the business association's ad campaign that was financed with corporate money. The identities of the donors have been kept secret.
It's neither unusual nor illegal for political professionals to exchange information, plot strategy or even coordinate their activities to elect a slate of candidates. When corporate money becomes involved, however, the fine line between cooperation and coordination becomes the boundary between legal political activity and a felony.
"Coordination is just a fancy word for conspiracy," explained Travis District Attorney Ronnie Earle.
"Communication is not coordination," retorted Andy Taylor, the lawyer for the business association.
John Colyandro, executive director of Texans for a Republican Majority, on Thursday confirmed the meetings with Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business; Chuck McDonald, a public relations executive who designed ads for Hammond; and Toomey. He said he met with political professionals all the time and could not recall what was discussed.
Toomey declined comment, and Hammond referred all questions to Taylor.
McDonald would say only, "Any meetings in my office would have been to discuss the TAB mailings."
One issue is whether Republican House candidates were promised campaign contributions in exchange for pledges that they would vote for Craddick for speaker. Two Houston state representatives, Larry Taylor and Martha Wong, said Friday that they were committed to supporting Craddick long before receiving any money through him.
Taylor, a Republican, said he had been dedicated to voting for Craddick since 1997, when he ran unsuccessfully for the Legislature. Taylor said he did receive a check from TRMPAC in the mail sent by Craddick.
"The fact that he delivers a check to me has nothing to do with my voting for him," said Taylor.
Wong, a Republican, said she thought her check was mailed to her campaign consultant's office. She said she committed to support Craddick in January 2002, months before the TRMPAC donation.
Based on interviews with Colyandro and documents from Texans for a Republican Majority, new details are emerging about Toomey and Colyandro's working relationship:
* Toomey hired private investigators to do criminal background checks on three Democrats running for the Legislature. He then asked Texans for a Republican Majority to pay for part of that cost. Toomey scribbled on top of the investigator's bill: "John C, Never paid -- call my mobile 2 tell me if you can pay. Thanks, Mike."
* Toomey also submitted miscellaneous expenses to the Republican Majority group, including a $444 copying bill.
* Colyandro said he contacted the Law Enforcement Alliance of America about getting involved in Texas legislative races. The Virginia group distributed the pieces to Texas voters under its logo and refused to disclose the sources of its money for the mailing.
* Colyandro, who also was working for the Gregg Abbott campaign for attorney general, denied recruiting the law enforcement group to run a $1.5 million TV ad against Abbott's opponent, Kirk Watson of Austin. The Virginia group never disclosed who paid for the last-minute attack ad and has refused to comment on its involvement in Texas campaigns. Colyandro has always called Toomey a mentor with whom he frequently discussed politics and campaigns.
As executive director for Texans for a Republican Majority, Colyandro was the nexus of decision-making on how the committee spent $1.5 million in the targeted legislative races, which included Austin-area candidates Jack Stick, Todd Baxter and Rick Green.
The group legally spent $900,000 from individuals by giving it directly to candidates or paying for polling, research and phone banks to help the candidates.
It even shared some of its consultants with the legislative candidates.
The issue in the grand jury investigation of Texans for a Republican Majority is $600,000 in corporate donations that the group used for polling, research, fund-raising and consulting. Colyandro said those were administrative expenses that benefitted the committee, not the candidates.
Colyandro said he decided whether an activity was political or administrative. Prosecutors are investigating whether that corporate money actually became illegal political expenditures by directly benefitting a candidate's campaign.
Prosecutors also are arguing in their court filings that the Texas Association of Business used political action committees to coordinate its corporate-financed ads with candidates.
"What TAB was prohibited from doing directly," prosecutors wrote, "it accomplished by chicanery."
The old ideas about Texas government are in jeopardy. They may prove to be relics of a dead political tradition, one that was rural, Democratic, and loosely organized. Today, a new political tradition is being established, one that is suburban, Republican, and tightly controlled. At the heart of that new tradition are Rick Perry and his enforcer, Mike Toomey. With a huge mandate from the voters, unassailable Republican majorities in both the state House and the Senate, and a major budget crisis that justifies gubernatorial intervention, Perry is poised to become the most powerful governor of modern times. And Toomey is providing the brains and the muscle.
In the Capitol game of Clue this year, he is everyone's favorite suspect: Mike Toomey did it, in the governor's office, with—what else?—the knife. Why did the Texas Medical Association part company with its longtime lobbyist, Kim Ross, last December? Because Perry told the doctors' group that his office would not work with them as long as Ross was around. (The TMA backed Perry's Democratic opponent, Tony Sanchez, in the 2002 governor's race after Perry, at Toomey's urging on behalf of two clients, vetoed the doctors' top-priority bill in 2001.) Why did the State Preservation Board, dominated by Perry appointees, fire its executive director, former GOP legislator Rick Crawford, whose tenure included the construction of the highly regarded Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum? Because Crawford refused Toomey's request for his resignation, his apparent sin being friendship with Perry's archenemy, former Democratic House Speaker Pete Laney. Why did several Democratic representatives have a change of heart in late March and vote for a proposed constitutional amendment limiting lawsuit awards? Could it be because the governor's office informed them that funding for a regional health center in the Rio Grande Valley and a medical school for El Paso depended upon local lawmakers' support for the tort-reform bill? Many more dark and dirty deeds are attributed to him without proof, as occurred with Karl Rove in the Bush years.