Groups file criminal complaint against Texas GOPRepublican Party officials say it's smear campaign by Democrats
By Laylan Copelin, Austin American-Statesman
Saturday, May 1, 2004
Public Citizen and Common Cause filed a criminal complaint Friday against the Republican Party of Texas, requesting an investigation into whether GOP officials illegally spent corporate money on election activities in 2002.
"The party claims to have spent an enormous sum on administrative costs in the 2002 elections," said Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen. "But when you look at their expense reports, you see payments for voters drives, list acquisition, political consultants and issues ads affecting state candidates."
State law prohibits using corporate and labor union money to pay for political expenses, but it allows the money to be spent on issue ads or the administrative expenses of running a political party or a political action committee.
Travis County Attorney David Escamilla said Friday that he would review the complaint before deciding whether it warrants an investigation.
Republican Party officials say $2.2 million in corporate cash was legally transferred to and spent by its federal committee, the Texas Republican Congressional Committee. Party officials designated all general election expenses as administrative, including money for a television commercial and direct mail.
On Friday, Rene Diaz, the GOP's general counsel, said the accusation by Public Citizen and Common Cause is without merit. If there was anything to the allegation, Diaz said, the Federal Election Commission would have investigated it years ago. He said the complaint is part of a smear campaign by Texas Democrats.
"Democrats -- and their liberal, special interest front groups -- are still furious at the people of Texas for rejecting their party at the ballot box, and they are now viciously attempting to hang Republicans in the media," Diaz said.
The misdemeanor complaint is an echo of a yearlong investigation by Travis District Attorney Ronnie Earle into how the Texas Association of Business and the Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee spent corporate money in the 2002 elections.
Sources familiar with that investigation said Jim Ellis, a consultant to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, was declining to testify before the grand jury, invoking the Fifth Amendment, which protects against self-incrimination. The lawyer for Ellis on Friday denied that his client is refusing to testify about his role with the Republican PAC.
San Antonio lawyer J.D. Pauerstein said he has been negotiating with prosecutor Gregg Cox on whether Ellis would testify. "I've discussed with Cox what he's interested in and what we can talk about," Pauerstein said. "But nothing has happened."
Cox declined to comment.