Thursday, February 26, 2004

Campaign records involving Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff and the daughter of Rep. Tom DeLay have been subpoenaed by a Travis County grand jury looking into funding of key 2002 GOP House races.

Records tied to Perry aide subpoenaed

Files linked to DeLay's daughter among others sought in PAC inquiry

Thursday, February 26, 2004

AUSTIN – Campaign records involving Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff and the daughter of Rep. Tom DeLay have been subpoenaed by a Travis County grand jury looking into funding of key 2002 GOP House races.

Private investigators, political consultants, private clubs, restaurants and printers that did business with Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) and its agents are the targets in the latest flurry of subpoenas released Wednesday.

The grand jury is investigating whether the political action committee, set up by Mr. DeLay, the U.S. House majority leader, illegally used corporate donations to help the campaigns of more than a dozen Republican candidates for the Texas House.

It is a felony in Texas to use corporate or union donations to help an individual candidate. Those donations can be raised but can be applied only to the administrative costs of running a political action committee.

Victories in 15 of the 20 House races targeted by TRMPAC gave Republicans control of the House for the first time in more than 130 years and helped secure the election of Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, as speaker.

The records requested by the grand jury on Wednesday examine how TRMPAC spent more than $600,000 in corporate contributions.

John Colyandro, the director of TRMPAC, has said the organization did nothing wrong and that the corporate money was used for legitimate overhead expenses.

Among the billing, contracts and reports that must be produced for the grand jury are records of Blakemore & Associates, a Houston political consulting firm, P.M. Clinton International Investigations of Houston, and Weeks & Associate Investigations of Austin.

According to records obtained by The Dallas Morning News, Mike Toomey, now the governor's chief of staff, ordered private investigators in 2002 to check into the background and criminal histories of three Democratic House candidates.

Mr. Toomey, then a top lobbyist for Texans for Lawsuit Reform, sent the investigator's bill to Mr. Colyandro and asked TRMPAC to pay the bill.

A handwritten note scribbled by Mr. Toomey on the invoice reads, "John C never pd – call my mobile & tell me if you can pay thanks Mike."

The three candidates targeted by Mr. Toomey – Debra Danburg, a longtime incumbent from Houston; D.L. "Donnie" Jarvis, Jr., Van Alstyne; and Danny Duncan, Commerce – all lost. Such research is not uncommon, but grand jurors are questioning whether such research didn't directly benefit the Republican opponents and whether it could qualify as an administrative, nonpolitical expense.

Mr. Perry said he was aware of the subpoena and believes the exercise "is a huge fishing expedition" by District Attorney Ronald Earle, a Democrat.

The governor said that hiring private investigators is part of politics.

"There's a lot of things that go on that are quite legal that you and I might turn our nose up to if they were going on in our lives," Mr. Perry said. "But it's politics, and people understand that it gets a little rough out there from time to time."

The grand jury also ordered Landry's Seafood of Houston to produce information about services rendered for TRMPAC or Dani Ferro, Mr. DeLay's daughter.

Ms. Ferro, a consultant for TRMPAC, was subpoenaed by the grand jury on Jan. 13 and told to bring billing statements and other materials relating to her work for the Republican group.

She is being questioned in connection with a number of receptions paid for by TRMPAC that she helped arrange, including the Houston gathering.

If the events were political, or if candidates attended, then they could not legally be paid for with corporate money.

Ms. Ferro could not be reached for comment. Her father has decried the investigation as a partisan witch hunt.

Federal disclosure records indicate corporate money paid for the Houston event, as well as three events in Austin: a $3,614 reception in January 2002 at the Hyatt Regency that was attended by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris; a $1,058 event in February 2002 at the Headliners Club and a $2,000 golf event at the Barton Creek Resort.

In other subpoenas released, Austin lobbyist Demetrius McDaniel was ordered to appear before the grand jury on Thursday and bring any documents that might indicate whether he was directed to make donations on behalf of his clients to benefit Mr. Craddick in his run for House speaker.

It is a misdemeanor for outside interests to get involved in the speaker's election, which is decided by a vote of the 150-member House.

Mr. McDaniel was instructed to bring documents relating to contributions to TRMPAC by two of his clients, Lexmark International Inc. of Lexington, Ky., and Primedia Inc. of New York. Lexmark donated $5,000 to the political action committee, and Primedia gave $2,500.

Mr. McDaniel did not return a call to his office.

Mr. Craddick has denied wrongdoing. He has acknowledged handing out $152,000 in checks from TRMPAC to House candidates, but his spokesman said there was no "quid pro quo" in the transaction.

Kevin Shuvalov of Austin, regional director for the Republican National Committee, has been ordered to appear on March 3.

According to documents, TRMPAC sent $190,000 in corporate donations to the RNC, which within three weeks doled out the same amount to seven GOP House candidates, leading some citizen advocates to suggest the corporate money was laundered through the national party.

A committee spokesman has said the amounts were coincidental and that the Texas House races were targeted by the party because they were opportunities to win important seats.

Also being questioned by grand jurors are $27,500 in payments to a consulting firm in Alexandria, Va., that conducted voter surveys for TRMPAC.