Speaker's lawyer: Official didn't distribute campaign checksExplanation about donations comes amid influence inquiry
By Laylan Copelin, Austin American-Statesman
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
A lawyer for Speaker Tom Craddick said Monday that his client never personally delivered campaign checks to GOP House candidates on behalf of railroad lobbyists or the Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee.
Instead, criminal defense lawyer Roy Minton said, Craddick's campaign workers mailed the checks or sent them by overnight delivery to the Republican campaigns after Union Pacific and the GOP committee sent money to Craddick's Midland office.
"Tom never delivered anything to anybody other than (through) his office," Minton said.
Craddick's explanation comes two months after a Travis County grand jury began investigating whether the handling of the checks violated a law barring outside influence on a speaker's campaign. Craddick was running for speaker when Texans for a Republican Majority sent $152,000 for 15 candidates to Craddick's Midland office and Union Pacific mailed at least some of its $25,000 for 11 candidates.
The explanation, in response to questions from the Austin American-Statesman, contradicts reports from officials with both groups. It also is different from the initial response given by
Craddick's press secretary, who never disputed that Craddick delivered the checks but stated that the checks were not delivered in return for votes from House members who elect the speaker.
Craddick's explanation raises as many questions as it answers. For example, why didn't campaign donors just send their checks directly to the candidates, and did Craddick's campaign routinely reroute money from other groups?
"I can't get anybody to admit to me it was going on routinely," Minton said. "I don't think there was any question checks came into the campaign and they sent them back out."
He said he could only speculate on why the Craddick campaign wanted to deliver the money to House candidates: "Someone thought it might have been good for it (the money) to go out from Craddick's office."
Minton said Craddick was so busy toward the end of the 2002 election than he doesn't remember even discussing the $152,000 with his staff.
"My youngest grandchild knows more about it than Tom does," Minton said.
He added that he was unable to find one note or letter from Craddick that would have been included with the redistributed money.
On Friday, Oct. 18, Craddick left for South Bend, Ind., for a wedding. John Colyandro, executive director of Texans for a Republican Majority, had the $152,000 sent to Midland that weekend, Minton said. Craddick returned to Midland Oct. 20, then left again on Oct. 21, a Monday, for Houston.
On that same Monday, just two weeks before the general election, Craddick's staff sent the campaign checks to 15 Republican House candidates in separate overnight envelopes, said Minton, citing photocopies of FedEx receipts.
He said he did not know why Texans for a Republican Majority would delay getting its contributions into the hands of the candidates by first sending them to Craddick's office.
In a deposition late last year, Colyandro said Craddick knew the money was coming. He also said he sent the money to Craddick as a matter of convenience because he thought Craddick was going to deliver the money at an event where the candidates would be.
The Union Pacific donations occurred at least a month earlier in the campaign. In August, Colyandro and Susan Lilly, a fund-raiser for Texans for a Republican Majority, discussed the importance of the group sharing credit for the $25,000 coming from Union Pacific to 11 House candidates.
They both wanted a member of the group to deliver the checks with a Union Pacific lobbyist, but they dithered so long, the railroad lobbyist gave up on them, according to railroad officials. A Lilly memo dated Sept. 27 said Craddick distributed the railroad checks, although it didn't say how.
After the grand jury investigation began, Kathryn Blackwell, director of Union Pacific corporate communications, said its Austin lobbyist, Ron Olson, split the 11 checks with Craddick, who was going to see some of the candidates on the campaign trail.
On Monday, Minton said Union Pacific mailed the checks to the Midland office for distribution. He said Craddick's staff was unsure whether the checks were sent out unopened or put into Craddick campaign envelopes.
Craig McDonald with Texans for Public Justice, a group that tracks campaign finances, said Craddick's explanation might not matter.
"In my mind, if the campaign operatives were turning around the checks, they must have been doing what they thought they were supposed to be doing," he said. "Concerns whether the speaker or his campaign went afoul of the speaker's law remain the same whether Craddick physically touched the checks."