Seems like just about everyone close to Tom DeLay is being investigated for some allegation of malfeasance or another. He may have to franchise himself at this rate.
In the Travis County hot seat today is DeLay aide Jim Ellis.
When Jim Ellis, a key aide to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, was preparing to deliver money to an arm of the Republican National Committee, a DeLay ally in Texas had a blank check sent to Ellis with the amount to be filled in later.
John Colyandro, executive director of DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority, said in a deposition that he had the blank check sent because Ellis had a meeting with Republican National Committee officials scheduled the next day.
It has been known for almost a year that Texans for a Republican Majority gave $190,000 in corporate donations, which could not be donated legally to candidates, to the Republican National State Elections Committee. In a single day two weeks later, the national committee cut seven checks to Texas House candidates totaling $190,000 in money that could be legally given to candidates.
Colyandro and officials of the Republican National Committee have always contended that the $190,000 amounts were a coincidence. The blank check, however, raises questions about who determined the amount and how they arrived at that number: Did Ellis, who also played a key role at Texans for a Republican Majority, fill in the amount? Did he negotiate the amount with national GOP officials?
Officials of the Republican National Committee said they didn't know who met with Ellis or who decided to send money to Texas.
"You are going to have to talk to Jim Ellis about how he came to the conclusion of $190,000," said Lindsay Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. "No one would have come in here with a blank check."
Larry Noble of the Center of Responsive Politics, which tracks federal campaign spending, said there may have been a benefit for the Republican National Committee to accept recycled corporate donations.
He said changes in federal campaign laws, effective after the 2002 elections, were forcing the national political parties to adjust their accounts: "The money was sorting itself out."
Republican stalwarts pulled together a small San Antonio reception in 2001 to support Rep. Tom Craddick's quest to become speaker of the Texas House, but records give no indication he paid for the event — a possible violation of state law.
The law that governs the speaker's race requires candidates to make all campaign expenditures from campaign funds, with the exception that other individuals can spend up to $100 on correspondence to "aid or defeat" a candidate.
Craddick spent money from his speaker's campaign account on several meals at San Antonio restaurants in 2001 and 2002, but did not report any expenditure for the Nov. 13, 2001, event at the Plaza Club, according to his speaker campaign reports at the Texas Ethics Commission.
The invitation to greet Craddick in San Antonio, posted last week by the Quorum Report — an Austin-based online political newsletter — is signed by San Antonio businessmen Red McCombs, George Hixon and Jim Leininger, as well as lawyer Tom Loeffler.
"It is our belief that the members of the (2003 Legislature) will select" Craddick as speaker, their letter states.
"The changing political landscape, his years of service in the House of Representatives and initial base of support make this projected outcome quite clear. We have asked Tom to join us for a private reception where he will outline his current thoughts on the speaker's race and the various ways we may support his efforts."
San Antonio lawyer W. James Jonas III, Loeffler's law partner, said Monday he organized the event and composed the invitation, but took care not to spend more than $100.
Jonas said he assumed the cost of the event was picked up by Craddick, in keeping with the law.
"I'm not sure I ever got a bill" from the club, he said.
A club official declined to specify the cost of the event, but said receptions can cost from $150 to $1,500, with club members charged on their monthly accounts.
Another DeLay buddy, a lobbyist named Jack Abramoff, has gone so far as to shock a GOP Congressman into requesting an investigation of his activities.
In letters to Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) cited an article published in The Washington Post on Sunday that detailed how a Washington lobbyist and a public relations executive with ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) have charged a handful of tribes more than $45 million in the past three years to influence public policy.
"This is shocking," Wolf scribbled across the bottom of his letters to Mueller and Ashcroft asking that they examine whether laws have been broken. The articles, Wolf wrote, "point out how the Indian gambling issue exploits Indians and potentially corrupts government officials."
The FBI has questioned members of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe in Mount Pleasant, Mich., in recent days about the $3.9 million the tribe spent to hire Greenberg Traurig lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the $10 million it has paid public relations executive Michael Scanlon. Some tribe members have complained that they have gotten little for their money, and that Scanlon's firm helped engineer the election of the tribal council that awarded the contracts.
Federal law requires that casino proceeds benefit tribes as a whole, not individuals.
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said his department "will review Chairman Wolf's request."
All of this seems to be making our boy Tommy a little testy.
With Republican campaign-spending practices under investigation in Austin, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay blasted Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle on Tuesday for using his power for "vindictive" ends.
"This is nothing more than a vindictive, typical Ronnie Earle process. The district attorney has a long history of being vindictive and partisan," Mr. DeLay said at a weekly session with reporters, responding to a question about a grand jury investigation being run by Mr. Earle.
"This is so typical. This is criminalizing, or an attempt to criminalize politics. We have a runaway district attorney in Texas," Mr. DeLay said.
Mr. Earle said of the leader's comments: "Being called partisan and vindictive by Tom DeLay is like being called ugly by a frog."
UPDATE: One more from the Star Telegram, which adds a bit more to the DeLay-Earle sniping. I'll pick it up where Earle's frog comment leaves off.
"My job is to prosecute felonies. Texas law makes it a felony for corporations and labor unions to contribute to campaigns," Earle said.
Earle said he could not comment on whether he would subpoena DeLay. He said additional subpoenas will be filed in coming days.
Earle, an Austin Democrat who is running unopposed for another four-year term, said that since 1977 he has prosecuted 11 Democratic and four Republican elected officials.
"They have all said it was political," he said.
Two of the 15 officials were acquitted, including Hutchison, who was cleared in 1994 of using her state treasurer's office for political purposes.