Craddick was deeply involved in raising, distributing money in 2002 electionAmid 2002 speaker’s race, finance role may have been illegal, says advocacy group
By Laylan Copelin, Austin American-Statesman
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
While he campaigned to be leader of the Texas House of Representatives, Tom Craddick of Midland delivered $152,000 from a political action committee to 14 Republican candidates crucial to his election as speaker.
The committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, is under criminal investigation after it was accused of violating state campaign finance laws, and Craddick's critics are questioning whether he also stepped over a legal line.
According to internal committee documents, Craddick raised money and accepted checks on behalf of Texans for a Republican Majority.
For years, Craddick has led efforts to elect a Republican majority, but he publicly stepped aside in 2002 to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest. Craddick did not return telephone calls seeking comment Monday. A spokesman said there were no deals between Craddick and the candidates who got the money.
"There was never any quid pro quo that if I give you a contribution that you, in turn, will vote for me," spokesman Bob Richter said.
A state law is designed to restrict outsiders' influence over a speaker's election by prohibiting groups from giving "things of value" to help elect or defeat a candidate.
Craig McDonald with Texans for Public Justice, a group that monitors campaign finance, said Craddick, the political action committee or Craddick's surrogates might have stepped over the legal line.
"On the surface, people should see this for what it was," McDonald said. "Tom Craddick was working directly with TRMPAC (pronounced 'trim-pack') to curry favor and votes among Republican candidates."
Only the 150 House members can vote for speaker, and candidates for the leadership post are restricted in how they can spend money to be elected. Giving money to House members is not on the list of allowable expenditures.
Almost a year ago, McDonald filed the initial complaint accusing Texans for a Republican Majority of illegally using corporate money in the 2002 legislative elections. Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who's been investigating the committee, declined Monday to say whether Craddick's role with the committee might affect the investigation.
The depth of Craddick's involvement is surprising because he has always contended that he had distanced himself from Texans for a Republican Majority except to headline a fund-raiser. He said he had wanted to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest between his campaign for speaker and the committee's goal of electing more Republicans.
Craddick was not the only Republican seeking the top job, and the committee was not publicly involved in the internal House race.
Before the 2002 election, Craddick had played a lead role in organizations similar to Texans for a Republican Majority.
For years, Craddick, the longest-serving Republican in the House, had tried to marshal Republican money to elect a GOP majority and unseat Democrat Pete Laney. When Craddick publicly stepped aside in 2002 to run as speaker, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and other Craddick allies took over that role.
The committee's own documents, however, show that Craddick remained involved at several levels.
In an e-mail, the committee's executive director, John Colyandro, wrote to an accountant that he had $100,000 to be distributed and that Dr. James Leininger, a big Republican donor, would be sending more money.
"You need to cut checks for the following total and have them FedEx'ed for Monday delivery to Tom Craddick. . .," Colyandro wrote.
The $152,000 from Texans for a Republican Majority was to be given to 14 legislative candidates. The donations ranged from $1,000 to $20,000 per candidate.
That was not the only time Craddick delivered money to candidates, according to the documents.
In a memo, Austin fund-raiser Susan Lilly, who was working for the committee, said Craddick distributed checks for the Union Pacific railroad's political action committee. Union Pacific sent $25,000 to 11 legislative candidates at the request of Texans for a Republican Majority.
According to e-mails between Lilly and Colyandro, Texans for a Republican Majority wanted to help distribute the railroad's money so it could get credit from the candidates for soliciting the donations.
Representatives with Union Pacific were not available for comment Monday.
Richter said he did not know why his boss was enlisted to deliver money to Republican candidates but said Craddick believed he had done nothing illegal.
McDonald suggested a motive. "I think Tom Craddick and TRMPAC wanted to make sure Tom Craddick got credit for delivering the money to the Republican candidates," McDonald said. "He wanted credit. He wanted the recipients to be beholden to him."
Texans for a Republican Majority raised $1.5 million for the 2002 elections, including $600,000 in corporate money, to help elect a Republican majority in the Texas House of Representatives. The GOP now controls the House 88 to 62.
Most of the corporate money was raised in Washington, D.C., by DeLay's corporate fund-raiser, Warren Robold.
Colyandro, Lilly and others in Texas concentrated on raising money in Texas, both from individuals and corporations.
In at least two instances, donors sent checks to Texans for a Republican Majority, addressing their letters to Speaker Tom Craddick, at the committee's address.
"Dear Tom: Enclosed are 2 checks totalling $10,000 for the Texans for Republican Majority," one donor wrote of a corporation's donation.
Craddick responded with a thank you note under his state letterhead on stationery not printed at taxpayer's expense.
Consultant Kevin Brannon, a former staffer with ex-U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, was hired by Texans for a Republican Majority to screen candidates whom the committee might support. He later split his consulting duties between the committee and GOP legislative candidates.
Brannon telephoned Craddick frequently, according to the committee's phone records. He declined to comment Monday.
Brannon called Craddick 32 times between Sept. 20, 2002, and the Nov. 5, 2002, election.
Two days later, Craddick announced he had more than 100 pledges from newly elected House members to vote for him for speaker.