The grand jury work in Austin isn't over yet. Another grand jury will be impaneled starting next week, and this time their focus will be House Speaker Tom Craddick and the Texas Association of Business. Let's go to the videotape:
From the Morning News:
[Travis County DA Ronnie] Earle, who has subpoenaed extensive records from Mr. Craddick and the business association, made it clear that the grand jury work was not done.
"There are a number of allegations that arose as a result of the 2002 elections. We continue to investigate various of those allegations," he said. "Anyone who has committed a crime is a target."
Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, filed the original criminal complaints that are at the heart of the grand jury investigation. He said he expects the Texas Association of Business and Mr. Craddick to be indicted.
"I don't think it's going to stop here," Mr. McDonald said.
He said he "would be surprised" if the TAB and Mr. Craddick did not "face some indictments in the months to come."
Allegations against the speaker and the TAB have unfolded in the last year, some through civil lawsuits brought by losing candidates that raised many of the issues also being explored by the grand jury. Others have been unearthed through newspaper reports and court hearings.
Among the actions that appear to connect Mr. Craddick to the TRMPAC operation:
•In October 2002, TRMPAC mailed Mr. Craddick $152,000 worth of checks to 14 candidates. The money had been raised from individuals, not corporations, and therefore could legally be given directly to candidates. But TRMPAC chose Mr. Craddick to deliver the largesse to the potential House members.
Roy Minton, Mr. Craddick's attorney, said delivering checks did not qualify as a "thing of value." And, he said, all the candidates who received the checks had "pledged to him [Mr. Craddick] long before then."
•Also in October 2002, Mr. Craddick passed along a $100,000 corporate check made out to TRMPAC and donated by The Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care Corp., among the firms indicted Tuesday on charges of making an illegal contribution to TRMPAC.
Such a donation would be illegal in Texas if the business knew the money would be spent for political purposes. A spokesman for the alliance said the group thought the money would be spent on administrative expenses.
Mr. Minton said Mr. Craddick was just serving as a conduit for a Republican cause. "I don't know how in the world he would know how it's going to be spent," Mr. Minton said.
•TRMPAC records show that in interviews with Republican candidates in the primary, notes were taken on whether they supported Mr. Craddick in the speaker's race.
•In the months immediately before and after the November election, Mr. Craddick spoke 92 times with the political coordinator for TRMPAC, according to phone records.
Mr. Minton said that his client was interested in politics and was just catching up on events.
Mr. McDonald said he believes TRMPAC was helping Mr. Craddick in the speaker's race and that he helped direct their operation. "It's a stretch of the imagination to say that Craddick didn't know the corporate and hard money aspects of TRMPAC. If he didn't understand, he's the least curious man in politics," Mr. McDonald said.
The check was given to Craddick during a dinner in Houston with Chris Winkle, CEO of Atlanta-based Mariner Health Care Inc. on Oct. 18, 2002, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle said.
In Midland on Wednesday, Craddick did not deny receiving the check, but did not recall who gave it to him, according to the Midland Reporter-Telegram.
Winkle, whose Texas subsidiary, Living Centers of Texas, operates 54 nursing homes, including one in San Antonio, did nothing beyond delivering the check to Craddick, said Winkle's attorney, Van Hilley of San Antonio.
"It was not a planned trip to meet" Craddick, Hilley said of the Houston dinner. "It was set up by political consultants, and they talked about tort reform. (Winkle) did not think anything untoward about it, and he has cooperated fully" with prosecutors, Hilley said.
Hilley said his client confirmed to investigators on Friday his role in delivering the check.
Records from the speaker's office were subpoenaed by the grand jury earlier this year relating to his role in the distribution of $152,000 in checks from the Texas political action committee to candidates campaigning for the Texas House.
Craddick said he did not remember to whom he gave $100,000 in corporate money from one of the indicted companies and said he did not know what the check was going to be used for.
"I met with some people in Houston and they gave it to me when I visited," Craddick said, adding that he was not in Houston for the purpose of collecting money.
"I don't even know if I looked at it, to be truthful," he said.
The Chron picks up the ball from the Mariner Health Care side:
In the Mariner incident, Craddick received corporate money on behalf of TRMPAC. To have violated the state's ban on corporate money in campaigns, Craddick would have had to have known he was taking banned money.
Van Hilley, a San Antonio criminal defense lawyer representing Mariner Health Care Inc., said Winkle met with Craddick in October 2002 in Houston. He said Winkle had been asked to deliver a check to Craddick from the nursing-home alliance to have delivered to TRMPAC.
"We simply wanted to talk to the speaker about tort reform. He wasn't the speaker at the time, but everybody thought he was going to be speaker," Hilley said.
Hilley said someone with the alliance knew Winkle was meeting with Craddick and asked Winkle to deliver the check.
"It was actually set up through some of the political consultants here in the state that the alliance had and that we had. They sort of made the connection for us," Hilley said. "I'm not sure our client ever actually saw the check. It was in an envelope."
Hilley said Winkle discussed his meeting with Craddick in a conversation with Travis County prosecutors last week.
Bill Miller of Hillco Partners confirmed that Mariner lobbyist Neal T. "Buddy" Jones set up the meeting between Winkle and Craddick. Miller said any questions about the donation would have to be directed to Mariner or the alliance.
Joel Weiden, a spokesman for the alliance, said one of the 14 group members asked that the donation be made. He declined to name the business that wanted to make the contribution to TRMPAC.
The alliance is an umbrella nonprofit corporation for some of the nation's largest nursing-home companies. The alliance maintains there was nothing illegal about its contributions to TRMPAC.
Craddick, who was not indicted Tuesday but remains under investigation, said Wednesday that he doesn't remember to whom he gave the $100,000 check: "It's a long time ago."
Bank records show Texans for a Republican Majority deposited the check two days after the meeting at Anthony's in Houston.
San Antonio lawyer Van Hilley represents Chris Winkle, the chief executive of Mariner Health Care Inc., an alliance member.
Hilley said his client was in Houston on business and was asked to deliver the check as a favor for other members of the alliance.
"He was just a messenger," Hilley said. "I don't think he even knew the size of the check."
The dinner at Anthony's, however, was not a coincidental meeting.
Austin lobbyist Neal "Buddy" Jones, a close ally of Craddick's who has represented nursing homes in Texas for years, confirmed Wednesday that he arranged the meeting. He refused to say anything else about his client's business, but added that he did not attend the meeting.
Among its activities, the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care runs TV commercials in Washington, D.C., and print ads in Roll Call, a publication for Capitol Hill, opposing cuts in Medicare aid for nursing home patients or appealing to Congress for more money to recruit and retain nurses.
But the night of Oct. 21, when Craddick and Winkle dined, the topic was limiting lawsuits against nursing homes.
Last year Steve Guillard, the Boston-based chairman of the alliance, said the group sent $100,000 to Texas less than three weeks before the election because its Texas members were interested in the pending legislative debate over limiting the legal liability of companies, including nursing homes.
Asked why the alliance felt it needed to give the money to Craddick if it was intended for the Texas PAC, Hilley said, "That's a good question."
It's not the first time Craddick or his staff handled PAC money.
Colyandro sent $152,000 in noncorporate donations, intended for Republican House candidates, to Craddick's Midland office. That money then was sent to the candidates. Those candidates, once elected, voted for Craddick for House speaker.
Craddick has said he had already secured enough pledges from House members to become speaker before the $152,000 was routed through his office.
State law forbids outside groups from trying to influence a speaker's race in which only House members can vote. It also prohibits a candidate from accepting outside help.
State Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, who heads the House Democratic Caucus, said Craddick's acceptance of the nursing home organization's money was "extremely disturbing."
"Texans deserve an explanation for why Speaker Craddick took $100,000 in illegal corporate cash from a company that was just indicted," Dunnam said.
Meanwhile, a Democratic consultant said the controversy could help put a dent in the GOP's 88-62 state House majority in November's elections.
"That some of these House Republicans put Tom DeLay's interests above those of Texas families will be an issue in those local races," Democratic strategist Kelly Fero said. "Voters are going to have to decide whether they want to reward those incumbents or turn to a candidate who's not all tangled up in tainted corporate money."
But Austin political consultant Bill Miller, who advises Craddick, disputed the notion.
"We are heading into the homestretch of a presidential election campaign at a time when the nation's at war," Miller said. "Nothing is going to be heard above the din of presidential politics. This is the hardest time to make an issue [in a state House race] stick."
(UPDATE: Sarah has more on this.)
Meanwhile, back in Fort Bend, the reaction to the charges against Tom DeLay's buddies has been muted so far.
A quick and informal poll of people outside a county courthouse annex building Wednesday showed that only a few knew about the indictments in any detail.
"I don't really keep up much on it," said Mary Lutz of Needville. "I should, but I don't."
Lutz said she plans to vote a straight Republican ticket and that includes voting for DeLay.
Alice Palacios of Richmond had not heard any specifics about the Travis County indictments but said it did not matter because she does not plan to vote for DeLay anyway.
Nate Johnson of Stafford said any time a criminal case develops around a politician, people will automatically say it is politically motivated.
"That is going to be said whether it's a Democrat or Republican," he said.
Johnson said DeLay spends too much time pursuing his own political agenda.
Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace said DeLay has done much for the city and county and said he does not believe the criminal cases will hurt DeLay's re-election bid.
One Fort Bend resident who does not think the indictments were politically motivated is Bo Randall, who has served on seven Fort Bend County grand juries in the past 30 years.
Randall said she was never swayed by political sentiments and does not believe the panel in Travis County would issue an indictment without sufficient evidence.
Finally, while as noted yesterday there's little chance of Tom DeLay being indicted since Ronnie Earle has no jurisdiction over him and the Fort Bend DA is unlikely to be interested, there's still the matter of the House Ethics Committee. Rep. Chris Bell sent out an email which disputes a number of DeLay's claims regarding his ties to TRMPAC. It's reproduced below the More link, since this entry is plenty long enough already.
The Express-News says what happens next will determine if Texas' campaign finance laws mean anything or not.
"What is legal in Texas is as bad as what is illegal," he said. "Texas is one of just a few states with no contribution limits, allowing super-rich individuals to dominate our state elections.
"In 2002, one individual gave $4 million in legal contributions and 15 gave over $500,000 each. In Texas, 57 percent of all the legal contributions came in amounts of $25,000 or greater."
The Star Telegram lauds Ronnie Earle's efforts.
The Waco Trib joins the independent-counsel bandwagon for the House ethics complaint against DeLay.
The Lufkin Daily News connects the dots to redistricting.
FACT CHECK: DeLay Statements Contradict Evidence
"This investigation isn't about me", explained House Majority Leader Tom DeLay Tuesday about his colleague's indictments. "All I did was help raise money. I didn't have anything to do with where it went." As reported in today's Los Angeles Times.
Although Mr. DeLay claims to have no connection with the three associates indicted on Tuesday, his statements do not agree with the facts. According to deposition testimony offered by defendant John Colyandro, the executive director of TRMPAC, DeLay is directly involved with TRMPAC.
* DeLay served was the head of TRMPAC's advisory board and was integrally involved in its administration.
* According to the deposition testimony of John Colyandro, there were regular conference calls "to discuss matters related to the overall administration of the committee."
* "When it came to broadly making decisions about who, which candidates we would support and with what amount of financial assistance, at that point the advisory board was involved with those types of decisions." - John Colynadro, sworn testimony
* An October 4, 2002, memo from TRMPAC fundraiser Susan Lilly discussed an upcoming conference call with donors in which Rep. DeLay would "update everyone on TRMPAC's efforts to date and to discuss our strategy for victory in the final weeks of the campaign."
Other highlights of the deposition connecting DeLay to the indictments are listed as follows:
* DeLay named to TRMPAC advisory board.
* TRMPAC documents stating that Congressman DeLay was a leader of TRMPAC.
* "High Ranking Republicans announced formation of new PAC" (11/28/01) news release includes description of advisory board and DeLay's name.
* Colyandro met with DeLay in Dallas at Bill Ceverha's office while Colyandro was working for TRMPAC.
* DeLay traveled, on a private plane, to Texas for TRMPAC event in February 2002. TRMPAC paid for the cost of the plane ride.
* Colyandro distributed memo to members of advisory board assessing potential Republican candidates and discussing their viability.
* Advisory Board met and discussed races that TRMPAC was supporting.
* All members of the advisory board were engaged in raising funds for TRMPAC. A quote from Congressman DeLay was used in TRMPAC's direct mail fundraising appeals.
Response Statement from Chris Bell
"These indictments along with the deposition of his fellow collaborator, John Colyandro, just strengthen the case that Mr. DeLay should be investigated by the Ethics Committee."
"I don't think any credible person would believe that Mr. DeLay had no idea what his top level aides were up to, particularly when the money they raised illegally helped changed the face of Texas politics. Besides, the facts clearly show Mr. DeLay was deeply involved. The evidence at hand doesn't support his statements."
"I am confident that the evidence will demonstrate that all roads lead right back to Tom DeLay. He is the common link."