Friday, March 12, 2004

Travis District Attorney Ronnie Earle on Thursday filed four more subpoenas in a grand jury investigation into the 2002 election for Texas House speaker.

DA issues more subpoenas in speaker's election

Prosecutor wants records from losing candidates.

By Laylan Copelin, Austin American-Statesman
Friday, March 12, 2004

Travis District Attorney Ronnie Earle on Thursday filed four more subpoenas in a grand jury investigation into the 2002 election for Texas House speaker.

Earle, who subpoenaed the records of Republican Speaker Tom Craddick last month, is now requesting information from two losing speaker candidates, Democrat Pete Laney of Hale Center and Republican Edmund Kuempel of Seguin. He also is seeking records from Rep. Barry Telford, D-DeKalb, and Barry Miller, Laney's then-chief of staff.

Telford was treasurer and Miller was executive director of Texas Partnership, a political action committee dedicated to helping re-elect Democratic House members.

The grand jury is investigating whether Craddick illegally benefited by distributing checks to House members on behalf of Texans for a Republican Majority and the Union Pacific railroad's political action committee. The investigation is part of a yearlong probe into whether the Republican Majority group and its allies in the business community illegally used corporate money as campaign expenditures.

Craddick's lawyers have complained that he didn't do anything that Laney, then the speaker, wasn't doing through Texas Partnership. They contend that neither Craddick nor Laney violated a state law that prohibits groups from directly or indirectly influencing what is supposed to be a legislators-only race for the leadership post.

Earle alluded to the complaints of Craddick's lawyers in a written statement: "It has been suggested that former House Speaker Pete Laney and former Speaker candidate Edmund Kuempel conducted their campaigns in the same way. . . . It is important that the Grand Jury have access to all the facts."

On Thursday, Laney and Kuempel denied passing out checks to House members for outside groups.

Kuempel said he donated money to House members from his speaker's account as allowed by the law.

"I gave some checks I raised for my speaker's race but not from any lobbyist," Kuempel said. "Nobody sent me any checks to hand out for them."

Laney said the Partnership was different from Texans for a Republican Majority. He said the Democratic organization provided consulting services to Democratic incumbents year-round, never made cash donations and had nothing to do with the speaker's race.

"I complied with the statute," Laney said.

Through his spokesmen, Craddick at first acknowledged distributing $152,000 in checks from Texans for a Republican Majority and other checks from the Union Pacific committee to House members who later voted for him. Now, Craddick's lawyer, Roy Minton, has been quoted as saying an unnamed Craddick employee actually distributed the checks.

Minton was not available for comment late Thursday.

In a deposition, John Colyandro, executive director for the Republican Majority committee, said he had the checks sent to Craddick in his Midland office because the speaker was going to see lawmakers at an event. A Union Pacific spokeswoman said the Republican Majority committee was insistent on having one of its members pass out the railroad's donations. The spokeswoman said Craddick ended up helping pass out the checks as a favor to the railroad lobbyist.

Laney was chairman of the Texas Partnership. Craddick at first denied having a role with Texans for a Republican Majority except to attend a fund-raiser or two. In recent weeks, it's been reported that Craddick raised money with the committee's treasurer, Bill Ceverha, and was sent checks to be distributed to Republican candidates.