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TAB goes to court

I’d almost forgotten that in addition to Tom DeLay and the TRMPAC Three, there were also multiple indictments handed down to the Texas Association of Business (TAB), plus one against TRMPAC itself. Via Vince, I see that on Wednesday, TAB was in court for some pretrial hearings.

In pre-trial hearing Wednesday, State District Judge Mike Lynch questioned whether the group just hired a group of ingenious people to write its political ads to “skirt the line” of the law.

“That’s an unkind way of saying it,” said Austin lawyer Roy Minton, who represents the association. “But the answer is yes.”

Minton also agreed to the facts underlying the indictment, at least for Wednesday’s hearing, while arguing that an indictment against the state’s largest business group never alleged a crime.

He argued that the group stayed on the right side of the line because the 4 million mailers — financed secretly by 30 corporations, mostly insurance companies — that were sent to voters never advocated the election or defeat of a candidate with such explicit words as “vote for” or “vote against.”

But prosecutor Gregg Cox said the association forfeited that free-speech defense by becoming a de facto political committee that coordinated its voter mail with other political committees that are regulated by Texas election laws.

[…]

Under the prosecution’s theory, it’s crucial whether the business group acted independently or coordinated its efforts with others.

That theory, however, falls apart if Minton’s assertion that coordination is only a federal legal concept is correct.

Prosecutors acknowledged that the phrase “coordinated expenditure” is not in Texas law. And Minton volunteered: “I’m not telling you coordination is or is not the law in Texas. It hasn’t been ruled on in this state.”

The judge must decide whether to dismiss the indictment or force the association to trial.

Or, as an alternative, he could find the Texas election law unconstitutional.

Lynch did not say when he would return a decision.

If the judge throws out the indictment, the group has two more indictments pending.

That pretty much sums it up. There’s no doubt in my mind that what these guys did was wrong, but the question is whether or not the laws as written should be interpreted to forbid their actions. I don’t know what the judge might do. Stay tuned.

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