Wednesday, February 18, 2004

During the 2002 elections, Texans for a Republican Majority was intent on getting credit for directing money to legislative candidates whether it was that group's money or someone else's.

A PAC wanted credit for cash

Craddick was used as courier as GOP group tried to score points

By Laylan Copelin, Austin-American Statesman
Wednesday, February 18, 2004

During the 2002 elections, Texans for a Republican Majority was intent on getting credit for directing money to legislative candidates whether it was that group's money or someone else's.

In fact, officials with the political action committee dithered so long over who would help a railroad company lobbyist distribute checks to 11 Republican candidates that Tom Craddick, who was then running for House speaker, was finally enlisted in the role of courier.

It's an odd image to consider: the man just weeks from being one of the most powerful officials in state government handing out checks for a lobbyist.

The election season efforts by Texans for a Republican Majority, created by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, might have been considered Politics 101 except that the group is under investigation on suspicion of using corporate money as campaign expenditures -- a felony in Texas. The group denies wrongdoing.

Now, because the committee used a candidate for speaker to give money to legislators, some government watchdog groups are suggesting that it might have violated a law that bars groups from influencing the election or defeat of a speaker.

On Tuesday, a leading Democrat called for an internal House investigation, and two Austin-based groups critical of Craddick called for a separate investigation into his role for Texans for a Republican Majority. Campaigns for People and Public Citizen suggested that Craddick should surrender all correspondence, records and pledge cards involving his race for the leadership post.

For a second day, Craddick said nothing. But his press secretary, Bob Richter, said, "I don't know that Craddick is going to come forward with a file of information they can rummage through. We just don't feel we did anything wrong."

Former state Rep. Bill Ceverha, the treasurer for the political action committee, refused to comment on Craddick's role in raising and distributing money to help elect other Republicans who would select the House speaker. He cited the ongoing investigation of the group.

A speaker's race is a one-of-a-kind election with its own law. That statute bars groups such as Texans for a Republican Majority or Union Pacific from trying to influence the internal House election -- either directly or indirectly -- with "things of value," such as cash donations. It also is illegal for a speaker's candidate to knowingly accept a group's help in that election.

In his bid for the speakership, Craddick was challenging Democratic Speaker Pete Laney. Several other Republican House members -- dubbed ABCs for "Anybody But Craddick" -- also were soliciting votes from the House's 150 members.

Richter said Tuesday that months before the checks were distributed on behalf of Union Pacific and the Republican Majority group, Craddick had already lined up Republican support.

"He had most of his Republican pledges lined up by March of 2002," Richter said. "Anyone saying checks went out as a payoff to vote for him is just not the case."

The law, however, is effective throughout a speaker's race. Craddick didn't announce his pledges until Nov. 7, 2002, two days after the election. The official vote for speaker did not occur until January 2003. By that time, even Laney cast his vote for Craddick, knowing that the Midland Republican had enough support to win.

DeLay had created Texans for a Republican Majority to help elect more Republicans to the Legislature. The ultimate goal was to get elected the first Republican speaker in more than a century and to give DeLay a second chance of getting a more Republican-friendly map for the Texas congressional delegation.

In 2001, when Democrats controlled the House, lawmakers failed to draw a new map after the 2000 census. The job was then handed to a panel of federal judges, who drew a map that resulted in a 17-15 Democratic majority in the state's congressional delegation.

For the 2002 elections, DeLay's Republican Majority group raised $1.5 million for legislative campaigns, including $600,000 in corporate donations, largely from Washington, D.C.

By August, DeLay's Washington, D.C., fund-raiser, Warren Robold, had approached Union Pacific about supporting the political committee's slate of 23 legislative candidates. The railroad agreed to donate money to 11 of them but insisted on giving the money directly to the candidates and not through the Republican committee.

Kathryn Blackwell, director of Union Pacific's corporate communications, said Union Pacific wanted the candidates to know where the money was coming from. She said Texans for Republican Majority wanted to share the credit by having one of its directors accompany Union Pacific lobbyist Ron Olson with the checks.

"Frankly, they wanted to appear as if they were responsible for that donation to those campaigns," she said. "They were not responsible for the donations."

She said Olson, who referred questions to Blackwell, finally gave up waiting to coordinate the donations with Texans for a Republican Majority.

He called Craddick to help because they are friends, Blackwell said, but she added that Texans for a Republican Majority might have suggested Craddick help pass out the checks.

Blackwell said Olson split the checks between himself and Craddick, who was going to see some of the candidates on the campaign trail anyway.

Two of the 11 Republican candidates backed by Union Pacific were from Austin: Todd Baxter and Jack Stick. Both said Union Pacific mailed checks; Craddick never gave them money directly.

Stick added, however, that Craddick was helpful.

"Every time I asked for help, he'd say, 'Let me see what I can do,' " Stick said. "I don't know what action he took. In the end, I had the money I needed for the campaign."

Late in the election cycle, Texans for a Republican Majority was rushing to get money into the hands of candidates for the final weeks of the campaign.

In an Oct. 18, 2002, e-mail, John Colyandro, the committee's executive director, told an accountant to cut $152,000 in checks ranging from $1,000 to $20,000 for 14 House candidates. The checks were sent to Craddick's Midland office. On Tuesday, Craddick did not disclose what he did with those checks, though committee documents indicate he distributed them.

Craig McDonald with Texans for Public Justice, a group that monitors campaign finances, said Craddick and DeLay both had reasons for House candidates to think they were instrumental in helping them win their elections.

"They both got what they wanted," McDonald said. "Craddick got to be speaker and Tom DeLay got a new (congressional) map."

Donations In October 2002, Texans for a Republican Majority sent the following checks to then-speaker candidate Tom Craddick to distribute to Republican legislative candidates:

Dan Flynn of Van $1,000; Betty Brown of Terrell $18,000; Byron Cook of Corsicana $10,000; Mike Hamilton of Mauriceville $10,000; Glenda Dawson of Pearland $10,000; Rick Green of Dripping Springs $10,000; Todd Baxter of Austin $1,000; Jack Stick of Austin $10,000; Holt Getterman of Waco $20,000; Rick Hardcastle of Vernon $10,000; Martha Wong of Houston $20,000; Dwayne Bohac of Houston $10,000; Gene Seaman of Corpus Christi $10,000; Larry Taylor of Friendswood $12,000.

Union Pacific's Fund for Effective Government committee donated these amounts. The railroad's Austin lobbyist distributed some of the checks, and Craddick handled the rest.

Nelson Balido of San Antonio $2,000; Byron Cook of Corsicana $2,000; Wayne Christian of Center $2,000; Rick Green of Dripping Springs $2,000; Eddie Shauberger of Liberty $2,000; Todd Baxter of Austin $2,000; Sid Miller of Stephenville $2,000; Martha Wong of Houston $4,000; Rick Hardcastle of Vernon $3,000; Carl Isett of Lubbock $2,000.