Perry suggests probe of Earle's grand jury workEarle said there have been no leaks out of the grand jury.
By R.G. RATCLIFFE, Houston Chronicle
February 28, 2004
AUSTIN -- Gov. Rick Perry on Friday said the "appropriate authorities" should investigate Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle for his probe into possible political misuse of corporate money to help Republican legislative candidates.
"My concern is the extraordinary leaks that have come out of the grand jury system," Perry said. "When the news media finds out about issues going on in the grand jury even before subpoenas have been delivered to people, there's something gravely wrong with that system."
Earle said there have been no leaks out of the grand jury.
"Neither this office nor the grand jury has divulged any information obtained as a result of the grand jury investigation," Earle said.
"A grand jury investigation is an inquiry into the truth. Others have an interest in determining the truth about Texas government," Earle said. " That includes the media, which aggressively pursue their own sources of information. Those sources include civil litigants, government watchdog groups and concerned citizens"
Earle has been leading a grand jury investigation into the 2002 political operations of the Texas Association of Business and U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority. Both groups may have violated a state ban on using corporate money to influence the outcome of elections.
Earle earlier this week publicly filed about 50 subpoenas connected to the investigation of Texans for a Republican Majority. The subpoenas indicate he is conducting a wide-ranging investigation that includes questions about the activities of House Speaker Tom Craddick and DeLay, R-Sugar Land.
Perry did not specify what he meant by grand jury leaks, nor did he say who should investigate those leaks.
"I'm more worried about both the appearance and the actuality of impropriety that appears to be going on," Perry said. "The district attorney will need to answer those questions to the appropriate authorities."
Perry spokesman Robert Black later said the appropriate people to question Earle about the leaks would be the grand jury foreman or state District Judge Mike Lynch, who oversees the grand jury.
DeLay on Tuesday accused Earle of conducting a political investigation. DeLay said Earle is "vindictive and partisan."
Earle said being called that by DeLay was like being "called ugly by a frog."
Earle noted he has prosecuted 15 elected officials in his career, 11 Democrats and four Republicans. Earle lost two of his most high-profile cases, the prosecutions of Democratic Attorney General Jim Mattox and Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Earle's investigation of former Democratic House Speaker Gib Lewis ended with a plea to a misdemeanor, but it effectively ended Lewis' career as an office-holder.
Texas Republican Chair Tina Benkiser on Thursday filed an open records request with Earle asking for all records of his office's contacts with the news media in connection to this investigation. She also sought records detailing how much money had been spent on it.
"It is widely believed that Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle is engaging in a baseless partisan witch hunt apparently designed solely to score political points by generating negative media coverage of Republicans," Benkiser said.
The Texas Association of Business twice last year tried to halt Earle's investigation into its political activity, but the all-Republican Texas Court of Criminal Appeals allowed Earle to move forward.
TAB spent about $1.9 million in corporate money in 2002 for "issue" advertising that helped 21 Republicans win seats in the Texas House. A third of the $1.5 million raised by Texans for a Republican Majority was corporate money that was used in connection with the same races.
The victories allowed Republicans to take control of the Texas House for the first time since Reconstruction.
Texas law makes it a felony to use corporate money to influence the outcome of an election. But an exception in the law allows corporate money to be used for a political committee's administrative expenses.
TAB claims it is innocent because corporate money was not spent to expressly advocate the election or defeat any candidate. TRM admits spending corporate money on political activity but claims only direct contributions to candidates is banned.