Perry aide falls under scrutinyProsecutors study electoral activities
By CLAY ROBISON and JANET ELLIOTT, Houston Chronicle
Feb. 21, 2004
AUSTIN -- Mike Toomey, who now is Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff, had periodic meetings during the 2002 election season with leaders of two groups being investigated by prosecutors for possibly spending corporate money illegally on Republican legislative campaigns. It wasn't known, however, if Toomey, who then was a lobbyist, had also become a target of the investigation into the electoral activities of the Texas Association of Business and Texans for a Republican Majority, or TRMPAC, a political action committee formed by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
The organizations played key roles in gaining a GOP majority of the Texas House in 2003. Gregg Cox, head of the public integrity unit for the Travis County District Attorney's Office, wouldn't comment about Toomey on Friday.
Toomey also declined comment.
Cox said additional subpoenas are likely to be issued in the yearlong probe next week. The investigation was expanded this week to include Republican Tom Craddick's historic victory in the 2003 House speaker's race.
One issue is whether Republican House candidates were promised campaign contributions in exchange for pledges that they would vote for Craddick for speaker. Two Houston state representatives, Larry Taylor and Martha Wong, said Friday that they were committed to supporting Craddick long before receiving any money through him.
Taylor, a Republican, said he had been dedicated to voting for Craddick since 1997, when he ran unsuccessfully for the Legislature. Taylor said he did receive a check from TRMPAC in the mail sent by Craddick.
"The fact that he delivers a check to me has nothing to do with my voting for him," said Taylor.
Wong, a Republican, said she thought her check was mailed to her campaign consultant's office. She said she committed to support Craddick in January 2002, months before the TRMPAC donation.
TRMPAC Executive Director John Colyandro said Friday that Toomey met several times with him and Bill Hammond, Texas Association of Business president, during the 2002 legislative campaigns to discuss political races. He said all of TRMPAC's activities were legal.
"Mike is very engaged politically, very insightful politically. I think he saw an historic change that was coming to the House, and he wanted to be a part of it," Colyandro said.
"Everybody had meetings all the time. So did Democratic operatives ... (but) the characterization like this was a cabal of people sitting around and manipulating the process is almost silly," he added.
Andy Taylor of Houston, an attorney for Hammond and the Texas Association of Business, said the meetings violated no laws and the two groups' expenditures remained "legally independent."
Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle's investigation of corporate funding of the 2002 elections began after the Texas Association of Business boasted last year that it had used about $2 million in corporate donations to help Republicans win their first House majority of modern times.
The organization argued that the spending was legal because the money wasn't contributed directly to candidates, which is prohibited by law, but was used to pay for so-called "issue" ads attacking Democratic opponents
The investigation later was broadened to include TRMPAC, which contributed to Republican legislative candidates. About one-third of the $1.5 million raised by TRMPAC came from corporations, but TRMPAC contends that money was legally spent on administrative expenses. Colyandro said TRMPAC operated the same as other political action committees handling corporate donations but has been unfairly singled out for scrutiny.
Also under scrutiny is $190,000 in corporate money that TRMPAC sent to the Republican National Committee, which then gave it to seven Texas House candidates. The grand jury subpoenaed records from Kevin Shuvalov, a regional representative with the Republican National Committee.
Shuvalov is ordered to appear March 9 with items that indicate the identity of any person who was involved in the decision-making process that culminated in making the contributions. Among those getting the money were Houston-area candidates Dwayne Bohac, Glenda Dawson and Larry Taylor.
Taylor said it wasn't unusual to get money from the GOP national committee, and he received such donations in both his 1998 and 2002 legislative races.
Prosecutors this week subpoenaed copies of pledge cards and other records relating to the speaker's race from Craddick and six other Republican legislators following reports that Craddick delivered $152,000 in checks to 14 Republican House candidates on behalf of TRMPAC a few weeks before the 2002 election.
"During the course of the investigation into the activities of TRMPAC, possible criminal conduct in connection with the race for speaker of the Texas House of Representatives was uncovered," said Earle, a Democrat.
Craddick, through a spokesman, has admitted delivering the checks but has denied any wrongdoing. It is illegal for groups to give or lend "anything of value" to a candidate for speaker, who is elected by other House members. State law also prohibits speaker candidates from exchanging something of value for a promised vote.
Roy Minton, Craddick's lawyer, said the speaker didn't donate anything to the legislators who later helped decide his promotion to presiding officer. He merely delivered checks on behalf of TRMPAC.
Minton said Craddick also had collected enough vote pledges to be elected speaker before he distributed the checks.
State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, one of the six other Republican House members -- all committee chairmen or vice chairmen -- whose records were subpoenaed, said he would comply but didn't have much to offer. The lawmakers were ordered to provide the records on Thursday.
"I'm really kind of perplexed by the whole thing," he said, adding that he didn't play any role in TRMPAC, didn't receive any money from the group and didn't deliver any checks.
"I really have no idea why my name came up, but I am part of the (House) Republican leadership and worked real hard during the last election for Republican candidates," King said.