Bush-Cheney official appears before grand juryOfficial probably was asked about his role in 2002 campaign cash transfer
By Laylan Copelin, Austin American-Statesman
Saturday, March 20, 2004
The political director for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign appeared Friday in front of the Travis County grand jury that's investigating allegations that corporate money was used illegally in the 2002 state legislative campaigns.
In the closed-door session, Terry Nelson, the former deputy chief of staff for the Republican National Committee, most likely would have been asked about $190,000 that an arm of the national committee donated to seven Texas House candidates. The donations came in a single day two weeks after Texans for a Republican Majority sent $190,000 in corporate money to the national group. Under state law, the Texas group could not legally donate the corporate money to candidates.
Critics have accused the Republicans of laundering money that couldn't be used for political purposes in exchange for money that could be legally donated to candidates. Officials with the national and Texas committees have said it was a legal transaction and the timing and amounts were coincidental.
The $190,000 is a small part of an expanding grand jury investigation into Texans for a Republican Majority, the Texas Association of Business and Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland. The issue is whether an alliance of Republicans and business corporations illegally used corporate money to pay for campaign expenditures and whether any outside groups tried to influence Craddick's election as leader of the Texas House.
After about an hour Friday, Nelson emerged from the secret grand jury proceeding carrying a large cup of coffee and a bottle of water. Through his lawyer, Nelson referred all questions to the Republican National Committee, which did not return calls for comment.
In the past, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman, Lindsay Taylor, has said the committee had no record of who met with Jim Ellis, a key fund-raising staffer for U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Ellis is executive director of DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority and a paid consultant for DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority.
On Sept. 10, 2002, Texans for a Republican Majority sent Ellis a blank check on an account where it kept corporate donations, commonly called soft money.
"Send a blank soft dollar account check to Jim Ellis," wrote John Colyandro, executive director of the Texas committee, to the group's accountant. "Needs to arrive tomorrow."
In his deposition, Colyandro explained that it was urgent to get Ellis a check because he had a meeting scheduled with the Republican National Committee the next day.
Colyandro did not explain why the check was blank. Unanswered is whether Ellis filled in the amount before the meeting or whether he negotiated the amount with the national GOP officials.
After Ellis met with the Republican National Committee, the Republican National State Elections Committee donated a total of $190,000 to seven Texas House candidates, including $35,000 each to Austin legislative candidates Jack Stick and Todd Baxter, plus $20,000 to Rep. Rick Green, R-Dripping Springs.
Ellis has refused comment.
In May, Nelson moved to the Bush-Cheney campaign as its political director. As part of the campaign's senior staff, Nelson is in charge of making sure the campaign has state organizations in place, including county and precinct chairmen.
Before joining the president's re-election campaign, Nelson was deputy chief of staff and director of political operations for the Republican National Committee. During the 2000 election cycle, Nelson was the political director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.