DeLay's National PAC Gave Money to Lege CandidatesAssociated Press Wire: March 22, 2004
WASHINGTON - U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's national fund-raising committee contributed to 15 Texas legislative candidates whose campaign finances are under a state criminal investigation because of possible improper contributions during the 2002 election, including two East Texas state representatives.
While DeLay's national fund-raising committee is not the focus of the investigation, he helped found the probe's target, Texans for a Republican Majority, and records obtained by The Associated Press show the breadth of his influence in providing financial support to Republican candidates in Texas.
Americans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee made contributions totaling $24,000 to the candidates in 2002. The checks sent to them bear DeLay's name and title as the PAC's chairman and were dated Oct. 22, 2002, according to records obtained by The Associated Press and filed with the Federal Election Commission.
DeLay and his aide Jim Ellis helped start a separate PAC, Texans for a Republican Majority, in 2001 with $75,000 from Americans for a Republican Majority. The state PAC is under investigation for allegedly using corporate money to influence the 2002 races, which would be illegal under Texas law.
Some of the donors to each PAC overlap and Ellis is a paid adviser to Texans for a Republican Majority as well as executive director of DeLay's national political committee. DeLay served on the Texas group's advisory board, which decided whom the Texas group should endorse.
Federal fund-raising committees like DeLay's often contribute to state races, which is allowable under the law.
Democrats and watchdog groups say the contributions underscore the coordination between DeLay and the PACs to elect a Republican majority in the Texas Legislature in 2002 - the first time since Reconstruction that the GOP controlled the Texas House.
Those legislators went on to shape how congressional voting districts were redrawn in Texas last year, giving Republicans a better chance in the 2004 elections at winning the majority in the state's 16-16 congressional delegation. If the strategy pays off in November, Texas will have the largest GOP congressional delegation in the country.
"When you see those patterns of contributions, it really raises questions of whether or not there's been some sort of coordination," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog group in Washington.
But an attorney for the Republicans said the critics are making too much of the contributions.
"It is not surprising that ARMPAC was giving money to the same races that TRMPAC was. It was easy to identify what races were winnable, what races they were supporting," said Terry Scarborough, an Austin attorney representing Bill Ceverha, treasurer for the Texas political fund-raising committee.
"I think the conspiracy theorists are trying to make more out of this than there is," he said.
Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, a political watchdog group, said while the relationship of the two PACs is well known, the contributions "show the degree to which Tom DeLay was intimately involved in moving corporate money into the Texas elections."
Records of Americans for a Republican Majority were subpoenaed by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle as part of the investigation. The grand jury is hearing testimony in the case to determine whether any charges are warranted. So far, no one has been accused of any wrongdoing.
Checks distributed to the House candidates were accompanied by a letter written on stationery from Texans for a Republican Majority.
"We are pleased to send you a contribution of $1,000 compliments of Congressman Tom DeLay's political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority," said a letter sent to Mike Hamilton, a Mauriceville candidate who won, that accompanied the check. The AP obtained a copy of the letter.
"Congressman DeLay is as equally committed to winning a House Republican majority in Texas as he is maintaining a Republican majority in the U.S. Congress," said the letter, which ended with Ceverha's name but wasn't signed.
Among the House candidates listed as recipients of ARMPAC funds are Reps. Dan Flynn of Van and Bryan Hughes of Mineola; each was reportedly given a $1,000 contribution.
Hughes confirmed Sunday evening that his campaign had received a $1,000 contribution from the PAC.
"Most of my donations were small amounts from folks in East Texas," Hughes said. "I also received help from elected officials like Sen. Phil Gramm and Congressmen Sam Johnson, Tom DeLay, Kay Granger and Pete Sessions, among others. I am thankful for all of the support I received."
"And regarding the claim that contributions from Congressman DeLay influenced members' votes on congressional redistricting, I know that at least two of the legislators in the article - Rep. Mike Hamilton and I - voted against the congressional redistricting plan passed by the House," Hughes said.
Efforts to reach Flynn for comment on Sunday were unsuccessful.
Twelve of the Republican candidates who got contributions from Americans for a Republican Majority also got separate checks from the Texas group. Those were hand-delivered to the candidates by state House Speaker Tom Craddick while he was vying for the speaker's job.
The grand jury is also examining whether Craddick influenced his race for speaker by giving out those checks. Civil lawsuits have been filed by some of the candidates who lost, including one which names Ellis as a defendant.