DeLay, GOP believed use of corporate cash legal, files sayTom DeLay and his operatives planned from the start to use corporate money
By R.G. RATCLIFFE, Houston Chronicle
March 4, 2004
AUSTIN -- U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his operatives planned from the start to use corporate money to influence the 2002 legislative races but believed it was legal, according to documents released Wednesday in a civil lawsuit.
Though part of the lawsuit, the documents are a road map for Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle's grand jury investigation into possible criminal campaign finance violations for use of corporate money to help in the Republicans' takeover of the Texas House.
The documents show an intricate web of campaign activity among DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority, Texans for a Republican Majority, House Speaker Tom Craddick and Republican House candidates.
Democrats who have sued TRM officials say the papers also demonstrate that the Republicans involved skirted, if not broke, state laws banning the use of corporate money to influence the outcome of a race for public office.
"The filings show that DeLay and his team secretly laundered corporate cash into Texas elections and have serious legal problems," said attorney Cristen Feldman, who is representing four losing Democratic candidates in a lawsuit against officials of Texans for a Republican Majority.
But Terry Scarborough, representing one TRM official named in the lawsuit, said the corporate money was used legally because it was not donated directly to candidates. Scarborough said the lawsuit is "politically motivated" to "attack TRMPAC (TRM's political action committee) specifically and Republicans generally because they had unprecedented success in electing Republicans to office."
More than 1,000 pages of documents were released by Democrats suing TRM officials for damages on the claim that they illegally used corporate money to win House races in 2002. The collection includes TRM campaign finance reports, accounting statements and strategic planning documents and depositions by three TRM officials.
TRM is seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed as frivolous.
Texas law bans the use of corporate and labor union money in political campaigns except to pay the administrative expenses of a political action committee.
Earle is investigating whether DeLay, Craddick or their political operatives broke state law.
TRM interpreted administrative expenses to mean anything other than a donation directly to a candidate. But Democrats in the lawsuit and Earle's prosecutors believe that definition is too broad and that no corporate money should have been used for polling, fund raising or candidate-support activities.
The documents filed in the lawsuit include depositions from TRM Executive Director John Colyandro, Treasurer Bill Ceverha and accountant Russell Anderson, along with memos, bookkeeping forms and telephone logs.
Colyandro testified that raising corporate money for the TRM effort was part of the game plan from the beginning. He said the person in charge was Warren Robold of DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority. Colyandro said Robold's goal was to raise $600,000 from corporations through his Washington contacts.
TRM filings with the Internal Revenue Service showed the committee raised $574,000 from corporations with $433,000 coming from out of state. Corporate donations accounted for a third of all of TRM's fund raising.
Ceverah, in his deposition, when questioned by attorney David Richards, said the TRM advisory committee, on which DeLay served, was aware of how money was being raised and spent. He said the board knew corporate money could not be spent directly on campaigns and avoided that.
Ceverah said two bank accounts were set up to keep "hard" donations that could be passed on to candidates separate from "soft" corporate donations that TRM planned to use for other purposes.
But a fund-raising letter TRM sent to corporate leaders indicated the political committee planned to go beyond a strict definition of Texas law that allows for the use of corporate money to pay for only administrative expenses such as rent and utilities.
"Unlike other organizations, your corporate contribution to TRMPAC will be put to productive use," the piece said. "Rather than just paying for overhead, your support will fund a series of productive and innovative activities designed to increase our level of engagement in the political arena."
While TRM officials have said they gave no corporate money to candidates, a TRM document released Wednesday raises questions about that claim. The document lists soft money contributions totaling $7,500 to two Republican House candidates. Those donations are listed along with a $190,000 contribution to the Republican National State Elections Committee, which TRM officials have acknowledged was corporate money but a legal donation.
But Colyandro's deposition also showed that DeLay's aides were careful to walk the line on federal campaign laws.