April 15, 2005
Illegal armtwisting?

Will the TRMPAC scandals reach the Governor's office? Republican State Rep. Tommy Merritt is claiming that Rick Perry's former chief of staff Mike Toomey urged him to sign a pledge card for Tom Craddick in return for a promise to not be attacked again by a sleazy out of state pressure group with ties to Perry.

Perry spokesman Robert Black denied that Toomey asked Merritt, a maverick Republican close to former Democratic Speaker Pete Laney, to pledge his support to Craddick as he sought a second term as speaker.

"That's silliness," Black said. "It didn't happen."

Merritt said he asked Toomey for the governor's endorsement in his House re-election primary last March after Perry had campaigned against him in a special Senate election in East Texas a month earlier.

More important, Merritt said, Toomey agreed that Americans for Job Security an out-of-state organization that used corporate money in radio attack ads in Merritt's Senate race would not repeat them in his re-election bid to the House.

A Perry consultant, Dave Carney, heads up Americans for Job Security, which paid for radio ads that Merritt said mischaracterized his stance on taxes.

Merritt said he also agreed to endorse Perry's choice for the East Texas state Senate seat: Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler.

Black said it didn't happen that way: "Merritt just came hat in hand and asked for our endorsement, and he got it."

Black denied that Toomey demanded anything in return for the governor's endorsement.

That kind of lobbying in the speaker's race would be illegal, so if there's merit to what Merritt says (sorry, couldn't help myself), Mike Toomey (who has been a person of interest to the grand juries for awhile now) could be on the next list of indictees.

There's another angle to consider here, and it involves HB1348, the Smith/Eiland campaign finance reform bill, which would outlaw the kind of attacks that Merritt once faced:

[A]s the bill gets its first public hearing [Thursday], there is concern that the legislation might not survive a gantlet of elected officials from the House to the governor's office, who either directed or benefited from corporate money in Texas elections.

Reps. Mary Denny, R-Aubrey, and Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, got help in 2002 from the Texas Association of Business and Texans for a Republican Majority. Denny chairs the Elections Committee, and Hughes leads the campaign finance subcommittee where House Bill 1348 is lodged.

Rep. Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, served on the advisory board of Texans for a Republican Majority. Woolley leads the House Calendars Committee, which schedules bills for floor votes.

All three lawmakers, plus Craddick, have not signed on to support the bill. The three members said they have been too busy to make a decision on the bill, and Craddick has said he will stay neutral.

The authors, Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, and Todd Smith, R-Euless, aren't ready to point fingers, although the legislative clock is running out on the bill.

"What I call the invisible hand of government can kill it and leave no fingerprints," Eiland said.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the Senate is waiting on the House to act: "If it comes over here, we're passing it out."

That would leave Perry, with his ties to Toomey.

I think it's reasonable to assume that Tommy Merritt brought all this up now because he believes in HB1348 (he's one of the coauthors listed for it) and he believes that Rick Perry will be the main force against it. What will Rick do? Stay tuned and find out. Link via Lasso.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 15, 2005 to Scandalized! | TrackBack