September 22, 2004
Indictment update

Let's see what there is out there today on the TRMPAC indictments:

Byron has some good linkage, including the Morning News story:

"This is not good news for DeLay," political analyst Norm Ornstein said.

While Mr. Ornstein emphasized that the case is only at the earliest stages of the legal process, he and other observers of Congress said the investigation could:

• Pressure the House ethics committee into initiating a full-blown inquiry into a complaint by Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston, that accuses Mr. DeLay of soliciting campaign contributions in return for legislative favors. The complaint also accuses Mr. DeLay, who denies any wrongdoing, of laundering illegal campaign contributions through a Texas political action committee; and improperly involving a federal agency in a Texas partisan matter.

On Monday, the panel's top Republican and Democrat, appearing deadlocked, referred the complaint to the full committee. With the panel split among Republicans and Democrats, many observers predict the committee will deadlock on initiating an inquiry.

• Dampen fund raising by PACs associated with Mr. DeLay.

• Possibly provide a minor boost to Texas Democrats in several hotly contested congressional races where a new redistricting plan championed by Mr. DeLay helped Republicans.

• Cloud Mr. DeLay's political future until the case is resolved.

"Obviously it's critical for these individuals to be exonerated if DeLay ever is to be speaker of the House," said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. "The Republican caucus will never promote DeLay if this is hanging over his head. It will hurt him even in hanging onto his current position if these people are convicted."

That's Norm "AEI" Ornstein and Larry "Leans Republican" Sabato talking. Someone's worried about this.

On the other hand, will the wimpy House Ethics Committee use this as their excuse to take no action?

"The committee could say, 'It's already being investigated,' " said Melanie Sloan, head of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which helped Mr. Bell draft his complaint. "It seems that they are looking for a way to do as little as possible, if not nothing, on the complaint."

Chris Farrell of Judicial Watch said the panel could be spurred to action because the "level of urgency, the seriousness is raised considerably" by the Texas investigation.

Byron also has the NYT story and the WaPo story, which contains this interesting nugget:

The businesses indicted were Sears, Roebuck and Co. of Illinois; Bacardi USA Inc. of Miami, a subsidiary of the Bermuda-based liquor producer; Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, a subsidiary of CBRL Group Inc. in Lebanon, Tenn., that operates restaurants and retail operations in 41 states; Westar Energy Inc., an electric utility company in Topeka, Kan.; Diversified Collection Services Inc., a debt collection company in San Leandro, Calif.; Williams Companies Inc., a natural gas company in Tulsa; the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care Corp., an umbrella organization of some of the nation's largest nursing home operators; and Questerra Corp. of Charlottesville, a subsidiary of MeadWestvaco Corp.

None of these businesses are headquartered in Texas. Illegalities aside, I continue to have qualms about outside corporate money affecting State Lege races. I'm not sure where you draw a line, though - Williams has offices in Houston, and certainly companies like Sears and Cracker Barrel do business here. I just keep coming back to Westar and thinking there ought to have been a reason beyond common sense for them to stay out of this.

The Express-News has some reactions to the indictments, all of which share a theme:

Those involved with Texans for a Republican Majority did not believe they were doing anything wrong, said Steve Brittain, an attorney for DeLay.

"All of these people felt very comfortable that they were not violating the law, that they were following the rules as they understood them," Brittain said.

Sears spokesman Chris Brathwaite said the company was "surprised by the indictment because Sears' contribution to this PAC followed all applicable state and federal laws."

Joel Weiden, a spokesman for the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, a Washington-based group representing 14 nursing home firms, said his group believed it acted lawfully when it gave $100,000 to TRMPAC in October 2002.

Jim Ludwig, a spokesman for Westar, a Kansas-based electric utility, said there was "no basis for Westar to be held accountable for how others spent the money after we gave it."

Tennessee-based Cracker Barrel said it its $25,000 contribution to TRMPAC was legal.

"Honest, Officer, I thought it was OK for me to make that U-turn. Why are you still writing me that ticket? It's not fair!"

The Statesman has a huge and highly informative story. We'll start with the next excuse that Team DeLay will be offering:

"Tom [Craddick] has been handed millions of dollars in checks just like (former Speaker) Pete Laney has," [Craddick attorney Roy] Minton said. "If that's a crime, we are a little late deciding that. If they are going to decide that's a crime, they ought to be indicting 15,000 or 20,000 people."

"Everyone does it! Why are you picking on me?"

There's lots more of interest in this story, including why Craddick and DeLay may escape indictment, at least by Ronnie Earle:

Craddick, like DeLay, could have one tactical advantage over Tuesday's individuals who were indicted.

The election code allows Earle to prosecute Colyandro because he lives in Austin. It also gives Earle jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants. But because Craddick and DeLay live in Texas, but outside of Travis County, their local district attorneys would have jurisdiction over election code violations.

Earle could argue for jurisdiction in Craddick's case if he has a dual residence. It's unclear if the speaker's apartment provided in the Capitol would qualify.

Do I really need to come up with a ridiculous metaphor to illustrate how unlikely it is that the Fort Bend County DA's office will pick up the case where Earle had to leave it off? Bear this in mind when you hear DeLay bray about how he was "never investigated".

We're not done yet:

Gregg Cox, who is leading the investigation, said the inquiry will continue with a new grand jury. Besides the business group, investigators are looking at: the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, a Virginia-based group that spent an estimated $1.5 million on TV commercials in the attorney general's race in 2002; Americans for Job, which spent corporate money in a special Senate election this year; and Craddick's role with Texans for a Republican Majority and how that might have affected his campaign for House speaker.

The lawyers involved in the civil actions against TRMPAC are looking on these indictments with much interest:

Austin lawyer Buck Wood said he might add corporate donors to his lawsuit.

Terry Scarborough, an Austin lawyer who is defending the Republican PAC, said the indictments might delay the litigation: "Anything that gets in the way of that civil judicial determination which we have been seeking since March of this year is disappointing."

Elsewhere, the Statesman has a story on the fundraising angle, a list of Ronnie Earle's past prosecutions, some background on John Colyandro and Warren Robold, video of the indictment announcements, and more. They're also first up on the editorial bandwagon.

Elsewhere in the news: the Star-Telegram story, the local view of Westar's indictment, and a sound you'll be sure to hear between now and November, the call for TRMPAC beneficiaries to give the dirty money back.

The head of the Galveston County Democratic Party is publicly asking local State Representative Larry Taylor to return more than $55,000 he received in campaign contributions from a political action committee after the executive director of the committee was indicted Tuesday on charges that allege the donations were raised illegally.


Taylor is one of 12 Republican politicians that received a donation from the Texans for a Republican Majority.

Anthony Buzbee, chairman of the Galveston County Democratic Party said Taylor was given $55,124 from the PAC, the second largest amount handed to candidates at the time. The largest donation, $65,087, was given to Bryan Hughes who represents District 5 and is based in Mineola.

Buzbee, who faced Taylor in the 2002 election for the State Representative position in District 24 said as a matter of ethics Taylor should return the money.

“In 2002 (Taylor) spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the race,” Buzbee said. “Texas for a Republican Majority was one of his largest contributors. Now after two years it comes out that the way the money was raised was against the law. As an elected official he should give the money back to the political action committee because it wasn’t raised appropriately.”

Rational Rantings notes that Kelly White made the same request to her opponent just before the indictments came down. Neither she nor Buzbee has gotten a response from their counterparts. State Democratic Party Chair Charles Soechting is doing the same, as well as calling on Tom Craddick to step down as State House Speaker until the matter is put to rest.

Hotshot Casey revisits the unpublished opinion of the Texas Ethics Commission from 1998 on the question of whether corporate clients could give money to an unrelated PAC.

The Ethics Commission drafted an opinion that said, in a word, "no."

It said while the wording of the law appeared vague, its legislative history made its intent clear.

For one thing, its language on administrative expenses was lifted straight from the federal law (complete with a grammatical error), and the feds prohibit corporations from giving money to PACs other than their own.

The opinion says a change of wording in the law in 1987 "suggests that there need be no connection" between the corporation and the PAC to which it makes contributions for administrative purposes, but that the Ethics Commission did not think the Legislature intended that result.

For one thing, in 1991 the Legislature amended the law to permit corporations to make contributions to state or county party executive committees to defray administrative expenses.

Since party executive committees are "by definition, a general-purpose political committee," that change would not have been necessary if the earlier change had permitted such contributions.

The draft's conclusion: "A corporation may make expenditure to defray administrative expenses of a general-purpose political committee only if the corporation participated in the establishment of the general-purpose committee."

Finally, a statement from Rep. Chris Bell:

"After today's felony indictments of John Colyandro, Jim Ellis and other key DeLay associates, the Ethics Committee has no option but to move forward with a full investigation into Mr. DeLay on all three counts of the complaint filed against him.

The Ethics Committee has already taken 90 days to review the information and has yet to take action.

These indictments are clear indication that the Ethics complaint against Mr. DeLay is substantive and extremely serious. Anything less than a full investigation would signify a failure on the part of the Committee to fulfill their responsibility to protect the integrity of the House."


Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 22, 2004 to Scandalized! | TrackBack

For those who might be interested, here is the provision of the Texas Election Code that might save Tom DeLay's bacon:

§ 251.004. VENUE. (a) Venue for a criminal offense prescribed by this title is in the county of residence of the defendant, unless the defendant is not a Texas resident, in which case venue is in Travis County.

DeLay's residence is in Fort Bend County (Sugar Land), not Travis County (Austin). Is the Fort Bend County DA going to accept a criminal referral from Ronnie Earle in Austin? The incumbent, John Healey, is a Republican.

Posted by: Kenneth Fair on September 22, 2004 2:27 PM

For everyone's information, Diversified Collection Services traffics in student loans. Make sense now?

Posted by: Brenda Helverson on September 23, 2004 12:32 AM