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October 14th, 2005:

Strategic split

Tom DeLay may want a speedy trial for the money laundering charges on which he’s been indicted, but that’s not the case for his codefendants.

Two associates of Rep. Tom DeLay were released today on $10,000 personal bonds as their attorneys indicated they may split from their former boss on legal strategy.

Lawyers for defendants Jim Ellis and John Colyandro are pressing in Texas appeals courts to have their charges dismissed before going to trial. They made it clear today they would be willing to wait weeks or months for those appellate decisions.

DeLay’s attorneys, however, have said they want his trial as soon as possible.

[…]

The posting of bonds came a day after it was learned that DeLay is being forced to turn over home and campaign phone records from the period in which he is charged with conspiring to launder illegal corporate donations. A later auto purchase also is being investigated.

Attorneys for Ellis and Colyandro asked State District Judge Bob Perkins today to rule on their motion seeking proof of an alleged document that detailed the names of Texas legislative candidates who were to receive contributions from the Republican National Committee. Defense attorneys questioned whether the document exists.

Perkins said he would consider the motion Nov. 8.

The judge also clarified Friday that the latest indictments against the men — alleging criminal conspiracy — were new charges and did not supercede previous indictments.

More from the Statesman:

[A] lawyer for Ellis demanded in a pre-trial motion that prosecutors produce a list that Ellis is accused of giving the RNC showing how much money to give to seven Texas candidates.

“It doesn’t exist,” said Joe Turner, who represents Colyandro. “I asked the prosecutors for the list, and they say they don’t have a copy.”

According to the indictment, Ellis gave the list to RNC officials in Washington and two weeks later RNC gave $190,000 of political donations to the seven candidates.

Although a copy of the list might not have survived from 2002, RNC officials who testified before a Travis County grand jury could have told prosecutors about the list.

However, J.D. Pauerstein, a San Antonio lawyer representing Ellis, said RNC officials would be wrong to attribute the list to Ellis or Colyandro. He suggested that the RNC’s field representative in Texas, Kevin Shuvalov, created the list, if it ever existed.

“Ellis was in Washington focused on congressional races,” Pauerstein said. “He wouldn’t have known which (state) candidates in Texas should be supported.”

Well, if that list can be produced, it’s likely to be pretty damning. Even without it, the size of the RNC contribution to Texas candidates that year is unusual.

The Republican Party’s $190,000 in donations to seven Texas politicians in 2002, which are at the center of criminal charges against Representative Tom DeLay, dwarfed all other contributions the national party made to state legislative races that year, federal records show.

The size of the donations — five times more money than the national party gave to other state legislative candidates — may bolster a prosecutor’s accusations that DeLay channeled funds through the party to skirt a Texas law banning corporate contributions to political races, campaign-finance experts say.

The money was distributed on Oct. 4, 2002, to Republican legislative candidates backed by DeLay’s political action committee, Federal Election Commission records show. That was about two weeks after the national party got $190,000 from the PAC. An indictment obtained by Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle charges that DeLay’s PAC sent a list of the candidates to the party along with $190,000 raised from companies.

“It’s just more evidence that these were earmarked contributions,” said former Federal Election Commission general counsel Larry Noble, now executive director of the Washington- based Center for Responsive Politics, which studies political giving. “It just adds to the case if there was no history in giving money to state legislative candidates.”

Those last two links come via The Stakeholder.

Notice a name missing in all this? That would be Warren RoBold, the professional fundraiser who was indicted with Ellis and Colyandro months ago. I’ve no idea at this point what his strategy is, but there’s been some speculation that he’s already flipped on DeLay. Given that the evidence against all three of these characters is likely to be the strongest in this case, one can only wonder when Ellis and Colyandro’s interests will veer sufficiently away from DeLay’s that a deal for them will start to look good.

On a side note, Ellis and Colyandro don’t approve of the anti-Earle ads.

Pauerstein and attorney Joe Turner, who represents Colyandro, also said they had no part in television ads that a national conservative organization began running this week criticizing the prosecution of DeLay. Turner said the ads were inappropriate and should be stopped.

“If there was money out there for those kind of ads, we’d ask that it be given to the defense fund and not for some attack ads,” Turner said. “We don’t think that has any place over here.”

Well, you can’t blame a defense attorney for wanting to make sure he gets paid. But still, kudos for seeing those ads for what they are.

More propositioning

Local Voter has a summary page of the nine Constitutional amendments on the ballot this November, along with a more in-depth section on Prop 2, the Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage amendment, which the Harris County Democratic Party now officially opposes.

That’s the easy one. I’m still working my way through some of the rest, and unfortunately there’s not much out there right now. The University Democrats are the first to come out with a comprehensive list of endorsements; unfortunately, they don’t explain their positions, and I’m not sure I agree with all of them.

Bucky has a lighthearted take on the amendments, in which he separates them into three groups. At least there’s some verbiage there to go with the “yea” or “nay”. If you know of other analyses beyond what’s on the Secretary of State page, please let me know.

Aiyer/Lovell debate roundup

Should have linked to these sooner, but here we go now. On Tuesday the Harris County Democratic Party hosted a debate between Jay Aiyer and Sue Lovell, both of whom are candidates for the open City Council At Large #2 seat in November. Greg Wythe, Stace Medellin, and Lyn Wall all have writeups from the event, which I hope will help you decide who’ll get your vote. Check ’em out.

Lottery commission close to naming new boss

There are nine finalists, including one familiar name, for the job of Texas Lottery Director.

A special search committee will begin Friday to interview nine finalists for the position, whittled down from 126 applicants. Only one of the nine people has experience working at a state lottery.

The diverse pool includes several candidates with extensive military experience, one with management experience at another state agency, two lawyers and the president of a lottery consulting company.

[…]

the one applicant getting the most publicity, who may have the most understanding of the Texas Lottery, is Dawn Nettles, the lottery’s most vocal critic.

Nettles publishes the online lottery newsletter The Lotto Report and has spent several years criticizing the Texas Lottery for inflating jackpot estimates and bad management decisions that led to dwindling sales.

She is responsible for revealing the $1.3 million discrepancy that resulted in Greer’s resignation.

“It took me a long time to make the decision to apply,” Nettles said. “I know I’ve been a thorn in their side for so very long. I know I’m not their favorite person because I’ve caused them a lot of grief.

“But the players know I’m honest,” she said, “and I know I’m more than qualified.”

The question of honesty may arise more in this search process than it has before.

Lottery officials say the recent problems with the jackpot estimates have brought more attention to trustworthiness than experience.

“It is my intent to examine carefully each person’s reputation,” said Texas Lottery Commission Chairman Tom Clowe, the only commissioner who is a member of the search committee, “to look closely in regard to their understanding of integrity and honesty.”

[…]

Lottery officials won’t say if there is a clear front-runner.

There’s a list of the nine finalists at the end of the piece. I’ll bet these are some interesting interviews.

Speaking of Dawn Nettles, the Morning News has a feature on her and her assessment of her chances of getting the job.

“They’re not going to hire me,” the 54-year-old Garland woman said. “They hate me with a passion.”

Gotta respect that kind of bluntness.

Lottery Commission spokesman Bobby Heith says Ms. Nettles is a serious candidate for the job, one of only eight of the more than 110 applicants to get this far.

“I guess you could consider her a critic, but she has been helpful with some of her criticism,” Mr. Heith said. “She calls things to our attention.”

Like minor errors on the commission’s Web site. And that letter she wrote to the attorney general in June about the inflated jackpot estimates.

“It’s something we discovered first. But her letter brought media attention to the situation,” Mr. Heith said. “The resignation of Executive Director Greer followed about a month after that. That was one of the things going on at that time. Whether it was a direct cause, I’m not sure.”

Hmmm…”we discovered it, but she did us the favor of making sure the media knew about it so the whole state would know what a bunch of schmendricks we are”. Yeah, I can see why she’s not so sanguine about her chances.

It’s a good piece, and without knowing much if anything about the other candidates, I’m rooting for her. Read it and see if you agree.

Phone calls and more subpoenas

The subpoenas continue to fly in and out of Travis County.

Travis County prosecutors subpoenaed telephone records for DeLay’s home, mobile phone and campaign office from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, 2002.

District Attorney Ronnie Earle also sought telephone records for DeLay’s daughter, Dani DeLay Ferro, who served as a fundraiser for both DeLay’s national Americans for a Republican Majority, ARMPAC, and the DeLay-founded Texans for a Republican Majority, TRMPAC.

This AP wire story has more on this.

The subpoenas list telephone numbers, but not whom they belong to. They ask for information about the calls and the numbers’ subscribers, voice mail service, billing information, long-distance calls made from or charged to the numbers and special features.

“The thing is no big deal,” said Bill White, Austin attorney for DeLay.

Earle’s office declined to comment on the subpoenas. He has said the investigation is continuing.

Earle is seeking the records and information from Sept. 1, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2002, the period when a political committee founded by DeLay, Texans for a Republican Majority, was raising money for the 2002 election cycle.

He also wants Toyota Motor Credit Corp. of Torrance, Calif., to turn over records on a 2004 Toyota Sienna Earle alleges was bought by DeLay. White said the minivan was leased as a campaign car in 2003, well after the fundraising for the Texas committee.

[…]

This is not the first time a subpoena has been issued involving DeLay’s daughter, a political consultant. She was subpoenaed in early 2004 to appear before a grand jury and bring records of work she did for TRMPAC.

Calls to one number for Ferro seeking comment went to voice mail. A man who answered a second number for her declined comment.

Earle also subpoenaed records from a phone number for Ellis’ 12-year-old daughter and for CAD Affiliates, a technology company in a town near Sugar Land, a Houston suburb that is DeLay’s hometown.

Ed Crowell, owner of CAD Affiliates, said DeLay’s campaign office shared a building with him once but his company was not associated with DeLay. He said he was not a contributor and has heard from DeLay only when he gets recorded campaign calls at home.

“I’ve never seen the man. I may have seen him in the grocery store,” Crowell said.

Getting back to the first story, the FEC has released some documents from another of DeLay’s PACs which indicate they spent corporate money to influence Congressional elections elsewhere in the country in 2002.

Federal Election Commission audit documents released Thursday indicate U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay’s national leadership committee pushed the limits of federal law in 2002 by spending almost $100,000 in corporate money to affect the outcome of five congressional races.

[…]

ARMPAC was cited for reporting violations by the FEC in August in an audit indicating the committee may have spent more than $200,000 in restricted corporate money in 2001 and 2002 on federal political activities.

The audit made no recommendations on whether the FEC should pursue an enforcement action against ARMPAC.

Records from the audit were made public Thursday by Political Money Line, a tracking service, showing ARMPAC paid $96,551 in restricted corporate money to Federal Capital Communications Corp. on Nov. 7, 2002, to pay for 145,348 direct mail pieces that were sent in five congressional races. It is unclear whether the money was included in what the FEC cited as reporting problems.

The mailings were sent a week before the elections in races in Florida, Kansas, Iowa and two in Indiana. A sample of one mailing was included in the documents.

You can see the documents here and here.

Federal law forbids the use of corporate money to specifically advocate for a candidate.

But numerous political organizations got around the so-called soft money rule by using corporate money to pay for “issue advocacy” advertisements that told voters how a candidate stood on a specific issue.

Federal election law has since changed to severely limit such issue advertising, and federal courts have ruled that the FEC can look at the totality of circumstances to rule whether issue advertising was meant to affect the outcome of an election.

Political Money Line co-founder Kent Cooper said it would be up to the FEC to determine whether the ARMPAC ads violated federal law.

ARMPAC Executive Director Jim Ellis and lawyer Donald McGahn did not return calls for comment. DeLay spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty said the latest documents prove nothing.

“These items were all disclosed in compliance with federal campaign law, the transactions were legal, and this happened three years ago,” she said. “This is just a flashback masked as breaking news.”

Always breaking new ground, that’s our Tommy.

Meanwhile, a different gray area in campaign law is allowing an anonymous group to give DeLay a taste of his own medicine.

Using new technology to exploit gray areas in election law, a mystery group has been making anonymous, automated calls to voters in Republican congressional districts across the country, telling them that their representatives should return money received from Rep. Tom DeLay’s political action committee.

Officials from national Democratic and Republican organizations say they cannot determine who is behind the group, which calls itself We the People. The calls began shortly after DeLay was indicted by two Travis County grand juries on a conspiracy charge and a money-laundering charge late last month and forced to step aside as House majority leader.

“Although we don’t have a face behind the name, it seems to go along with the Democratic strategy” of targeting DeLay, said Ben Porritt, a spokesman for the Sugar Land Republican.

Under federal election law, caller identification is typically required for political calls that solicit contributions, advocate support for a candidate, or are paid for by a candidate or political committee.

Unless We the People falls into the last category — which is unknown because the group has no Web site, phone number or organizational listing — the calls would appear to be legal, said Federal Election Commission spokesman George Smaragdis.

Joe Birkenstock, an attorney who specializes in election law at the Washington, D.C.-based firm of Caplin & Drysdale, said that “people have the right to do anonymous political activities, but there are some open questions. There are gray areas all over election law.”

Former FEC Commissioner Brad Smith said there recently has been “quite a bit of concern about this type of behavior, but (federal law) really limits the ability of the commission to do much.”

I sure hope this is being done in a legal fashion, whoever’s behind it. I don’t like anonymous attacks, and if it turns out We the People are breaking the law, then they deserve whatever punishment they get. I don’t have any sympathy for the targeted Congressfolk, who should be outed about their continued support for DeLay, but this is not the way I’d have chosen to do it.

Meanwhile, Karl-T reports on those anti-Earle ads now running in Austin, where I’m so sure they’ll have a great effect. Think Progress has some context.

Finally, John Dean reviews the charges and countercharges so far, and finds things for people on all sides to worry about. Link via Avedon.