Probe of corporate funds in Texas politics justifiedHouston Chronicle Editorial
March 1, 2004
When Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle started to investigate Texans for a Republican Majority, House Speaker Tom Craddick claimed he had little or nothing to do with that political action committee. Now one of Craddick's lawyers says the previous speaker of the Texas House, Democrat Pete Laney, worked even more closely with a political action committee.
The lawyer, Ed Shack, has chosen a poor defense. It points up the false impression Craddick conveyed before the public learned of his close collaboration with Texans for a Republican Majority, undermining the speaker's credibility.
During the 2002 campaign, Texans for a Republican Majority sent $152,000 in checks to Craddick. Craddick delivered them to 14 handpicked Republican candidates for the Texas House.
Why did TRMPAC send the checks to Craddick rather than deliver them to the recipients?
Obviously TRMPAC's backers wanted to help Craddick, who desired to be chosen the next House speaker.
Why did Craddick deliver the checks instead of telling TRMPAC to get some other messenger boy? Craddick obviously wanted to be associated with the checks in the minds of the recipients, who soon would be voting on the next House speaker.
Unfortunately for Craddick and TRMPAC, Texas law forbids PACs to spend money to influence the speaker's race. An invitation to a press conference at which Craddick touted his impending election as House speaker bore this inscription at the bottom: Paid for by Texans for a Republican Majority.
Earle's investigation must determine whether Craddick or TRMPAC violated the law, but Texans need not put off the conclusion that Craddick behaved badly. In this state, a millionaire chicken plucker once handed out $10,000 checks on the Senate floor just before a vote that would affect his interests. Texans don't need for Craddick to revive or revise that time-dishonored tradition.
The investigation of Craddick grew out of Earle's probe into how Texans for a Republican Majority raised and spent corporate donations. The law allows PACs to spend corporate money on rent, utilities and offices expenses but not on political action. U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the guiding spirit behind TRMPAC, takes the position that Texas law prohibits only corporate campaign contributions to candidates.
Ironically, TRMPAC didn't need to raise $600,000 in corporate donations. With the dominance of the Republican Party in Texas, a GOP House majority was all but assured. What TRMPAC's backers wanted was the right kind of Republican majority, one that would put off school finance reform and devote most of last year to congressional redistricting, a majority that would do DeLay's and business lobbyists' bidding rather than the voters'.
Among the evidence against TRMPAC is $190,000 in corporate money it sent to the Republican National Committee and $190,000 in individual donations the committee then gave to Texas House candidates. Showing his contempt for Texans' intelligence, a spokesman for the committee called the transactions "a coincidence."
DeLay, who started the ball rolling out of his desire to protect his power in Washington, says Earle is trying to "criminalize politics." However, the people trying to criminalize politics are the politicians who break the law. It is Earle's job to identify and prosecute those politicians.