Craddick's delivery of political checks warrants investigationEditorial Board AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Thursday, February 19, 2004
Perhaps if you stand in a sewer long enough, you get used to the smell. When someone comes along and says it stinks, you wonder how anyone could think such a thing.
Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, seems to smell nothing offensive, never mind plain wrong -- maybe even illegal -- in his personal delivery of campaign contributions totaling $152,000 from business interests to 14 GOP candidates for the state House in the 2002 election.
Craddick wasn't just helping those interests save on postage. The 150 state representatives, not the state's voters, elect the speaker, a powerful post that appoints committee chairmen and committee members and determines whose legislation moves forward -- and whose doesn't. Imagine the GOP's reaction if a Democratic candidate for speaker was handing out campaign contributions from trial lawyer interests.
Craddick has refused comment, and his spokesman, Bob Richter, says Craddick did nothing wrong. He says Craddick had virtually sewn up the speaker's race by March 2002 (the speaker's election was in January 2003) and thus didn't need any political help by delivering campaign contributions that year from Texans for a Republican Majority, a political action committee fed by business interests.
But Richter also said Craddick will not release the correspondence, pledge cards and other records from his campaign for speaker that might -- or might not -- prove that the race was over as early as he claims. He should release the records.
Even if the race was over early, there's good reason to suspect that Craddick and others might have violated a state law that attempts to limit outsiders' influence on speaker races.
As American-Statesman writer Laylan Copelin detailed in Tuesday's and Wednesday's editions, Craddick delivered those campaign contributions on behalf of Texans for a Republican Majority, which is under investigation by the Travis County district attorney for possible violation of state election laws.
The district attorney is trying to determine if the political group illegally funneled corporate contributions to candidates. Texas law bans corporations and unions from giving company funds to political campaigns. (However, a company's executives can set up their own political action committee and give money to it out of their own pockets.)
Texans for a Republican Majority denies wrongdoing. It was organized by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, who, when he wishes, wields far more power in the state and the Texas GOP than either of the state's U.S. senators or Gov. Rick Perry. The political action committee raised about $1.5 million for the 2002 election, including $600,000 in corporate money. DeLay accomplished his goal: With a new Republican majority in the Texas House, the Legislature redrew the congressional district lines in a way that may result in up to seven more Republican U.S. representatives from Texas being elected this year.
Craddick was well within his rights to campaign for Republican House candidates and to campaign for his own election as speaker, but his personal delivery of political action committee checks to candidates stinks -- and he may have broken the law. Time for him to explain, if not to the public, then to the district attorney.