PAC spending inquiry far from overProsecutors 'don't want to rush anything,' plan to call more witnesses
By GEORGE KUEMPEL and CHRISTY HOPPE
Friday, February 27, 2004
AUSTIN – An investigation of possible money laundering and illegal use of corporate donations by a political action committee founded by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay is far from over, a prosecutor said Thursday.
"The investigation is continuing. There will be more witnesses before the grand jury," said Gregg Cox, head of the Travis County district attorney's Public Integrity Unit.
Mr. Cox also said his office is prepared to hand over the investigation to a new grand jury when the current one expires on March 30, if necessary.
"We don't want to rush anything," he said.
The investigation was prompted by a complaint in March by Texans for Public Justice, a not-for-profit policy and research organization.
Grand jurors questioned three witnesses Thursday about how Texans for a Republican Majority, the committee founded by Mr. DeLay, a Sugar Land Republican and the House majority leader, "raised and spent corporate funds," Mr. Cox said.
At issue is whether TRM illegally used corporate donations for the campaigns of a handful of Republican state House candidates two years ago and laundered corporate donations through the Republican National Committee.
It is illegal in Texas for corporations and labor unions to contribute to individual candidates. TRM officials say they have done nothing wrong and criticized the investigation as a political witch hunt.
Russell Anderson, TRM's accountant, was among the witnesses questioned Thursday. Chris Gunter of Austin, Mr. Anderson's attorney, said Mr. Anderson cooperated fully with the grand jury.
"He's answered all questions and produced all records sought," Mr. Gunter told reporters. "There is nothing to hide."
Demetrius McDaniel, an Austin lobbyist, and Jay Howard, an employee of Hillco Partners, an Austin lobbying and political consulting firm, also testified.
Mr. McDaniel, who hasn't returned telephone calls, was ordered to produce records of contributions that two of his 2002 lobbying clients, Lexmark International Inc. and Primedia Inc., made to TRM.
Mr. Howard's appearance was somewhat of a surprise because his subpoena was not included in the batch made public by the district attorney's office Wednesday. He is the son of Ed Howard, the late former state senator from Texarkana.
Bill Miller, a Hillco partner, said Mr. Howard was served a subpoena in the office Thursday morning and told that he was to be questioned about TRM.
Mr. Howard declined to talk to reporters after leaving the grand jury room. Earlier Thursday, Roy Minton, Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick's lawyer, turned over to the grand jury several hundred pages of documents it requested last week relating to the 2002 speaker's race.
Mr. Cox said grand jurors also are looking at the $1.9 million in corporate contributions the Texas Association of Business spent on campaign "issue" ads two years ago and possible irregularities in the speaker's race.
Meanwhile, state Republican Chairwoman Tina Benkiser on Thursday filed an open-records request with Mr. Cox's boss, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, for information on the investigation's cost and "whether he is unfairly leaking information to the media." Mr. Earle has said he has a responsibility to look into allegations of wrongdoing.