Files don't back claim against DAElection inquiry target fails to show he leaked data to Democrats
By ROBERT T. GARRETT /Dallas Morning News
April 3, 2004
AUSTIN – Documents released Friday gave a business group whose 2002 election activities are under investigation little help in its quest to prove misconduct and a pro-Democratic bias on the part of the prosecutor. Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle said the 5-inch stack of e-mails and other documents show no leaks by his office to lawyers for Democratic candidates who say the group, the Texas Association of Business, illegally spent corporate money on Texas political races.
Five unsuccessful Democratic legislative candidates have sued, contending that the business group used $1.9 million in corporate money to help the GOP win control of the Texas House.
"A political contribution from a corporation or a labor union is a felony under Texas law," said Mr. Earle, a Democrat. "Our job is to prosecute felonies. We're doing our job."
Andy Taylor, the business group's lawyer, said he suspects Mr. Earle has leaked findings from the criminal investigation to Democratic lawyers, whom he called "fee-seeking plaintiff's lawyers," in the lawsuit.
"While he insists he is conducting himself properly, he engages in what appears to be improper communication in direct violation of a trial court order in the civil case," Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Earle said all contacts were proper.
"The records released today show that we haven't engaged in any sort of improper contact during this investigation," he said.
Austin lawyer Buck Wood, who represents one of the losing Democratic candidates in the civil case, said he had shared research about campaign-finance laws with Mr. Earle's office but had no other contacts.
"They never told me a damn thing, I can assure you," he said.
Cris Feldman, another Democratic lawyer in the civil case, said his firm has had "no substantive contact with the district attorney regarding the Texas Association of Business."
Rudy Magallanes, Mr. Earle's spokesman, said, "They can share stuff with us, but we can't share stuff with them."
The documents released showed two instances in which Mr. Earle's office last year sent information to the Democratic lawyers.
Mr. Taylor, who last month filed 83 open-records requests for material from prosecutors, also said he was dissatisfied with the prosecutor's decision not to release some documents.
"Why is he hiding documents from the public?" Mr. Taylor said
However, Mr. Earle said the only documents he withheld were ones that might compromise grand jury secrecy if released.
The prosecutor said he has asked the office of Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, to back him up and say the documents should not be made public.