October 22, 2008
TAB cops a plea

Well, this puts an end to one aspect of the whole Tom DeLay saga.

The state's largest business organization pleaded guilty today to violating campaign finance law six years after helping elect a slate of Republican lawmakers.

The Texas Association of Business pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge, unlawful direct campaign expenditure, and paid a $10,000 fine.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle claimed victory for the people of Texas, but the settlement was a setback for Earle, who had pursued felony charges of unlawful political contributions by a corporation.

Those charges were dropped today with an agreement that they can be re-filed if the association violates the law in the next year.

Tuesday's settlement involved the last of the criminal charges against the Texas Association of Business in a six-year investigation by Travis County prosecutors.

Earle accused the trade association, which is a corporation, of making illegal corporate donations to its own political action committee by paying the salaries of two employees as they traveled the state, appearing at fundraisers and other events, urging voters to support the state GOP candidates, speaking to the news media on behalf of the candidates and consulting on strategy. Those two employees were association president Bill Hammond and the association's lobbyist, Jack Campbell.

State law generally prohibits the spending of corporate money in connection with a campaign.

"I now recognize that while working as a salaried employee of the Texas Association of Business, it was a violation of the law to expressly advocate for the election of these candidates," Hammond told reporters today. "I take full responsibility for my actions. I apologize to the voters of Texas and to the members of the Texas Association of Business."


Earle said the facts supported a felony but that he's pleased with today's agreement. The punishment for a felony would have been a $20,000 fine.

"The difference between $10,000 and $20,000 when you factor in the cost of the trial ... was simply not worth the cost-benefit analysis," Earle said.

Turner said the felony charge was "the line in the desert" that the association wasn't willing to cross.

"There's no way in the world we felt like they were responsible for a felony conviction in this case," Turner said.

I guess that makes this a win-win, then. Judge Mike Lynch had ruled TAB must stand trial on the remaining counts against it last month. Other codefendants such as Sears had pled out years ago. Far as I can recall, all that's left is the DeLay/Colyandro/Ellis/RoBold trial,which ought to be at a theater near you eventually.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 22, 2008 to Scandalized!
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