Corporations gave $108,900 to Craddick PACGroup says big gifts raise concern; GOP says there's no reason to worry
By CHRISTY HOPPE / The Dallas Morning News
August 5, 2004
AUSTIN – Friends and family of House Speaker Tom Craddick have raised $108,900 in donations from corporations to aid a political committee designed to help the speaker.
Corporate and union money is banned from political campaigns in Texas, but a caveat in the law allows such money to be used to pay the administrative costs – such as office rent, phones and accountants – of a political action committee.
The committee, Stars Over Texas PAC, has raised $33,250 from individual donors but has garnered three times that amount from corporations – including a $100,000 check from AT&T, state filings show.
The committee's fund raising comes as the activities of another Republican political action committee – Texans for a Republican Majority – is under investigation for how it spent corporate contributions.A GOP spokesman said there is no reason for concern.
"With the unprecedented level of scrutiny from Democratic prosecutors, Democratic organizations and the press, the Stars Over Texas PAC will adhere to the highest standards of legal and ethical activities," said GOP consultant Ray Sullivan.
Fred Lewis, director of Campaigns for People, said six-figure donations from corporations raise concern because companies often use large donations to gain access and influence. Campaigns for People advocates for campaign finance reform.
The donation might seem "a tiny amount of money to gargantuan companies, but to a political process it's huge. $100,000 is nothing to AT&T, but it's a lot of money in our state House races. The question is, what is AT&T getting for its money?" Mr. Lewis said.
Tracy King, a government relations specialist with AT&T, said the reasoning behind the donation was a way to be helpful to "the agenda makers and dialogue makers."
"In Texas, you look for the opportunities to support organizations and individuals that are helpful to you, or supportive of you, or could be supportive of you," she said.
Ms. King said AT&T is working in the home state of SBC, and they have found, "It's very difficult for any competitor of SBC to really get a seat at the table, and we really want a seat at the table.
"We're going to be working with them and hopefully be there at the table to help set policy for telecommunications in the future," she said.
Ms. King said AT&T made the donation to help pick up the costs of running the PAC.
The Stars Over Texas PAC was formed in December with the goal of donating to Republican legislative candidates who will support Mr. Craddick's leadership in the House. For the last nine months, Dallas businessman Bill Ceverha has served as treasurer.
Mr. Ceverha, a longtime booster and adviser to Mr. Craddick, also was the treasurer for TRMPAC, the PAC that has been the subject of the Travis County grand jury investigation for how it spent $600,000 in corporate contributions.
Lawyers for TRMPAC have defended using corporate money for phone banks, voter contact, polling and fund-raisers, saying that such activities are inherently "administrative costs" for a political organization.
Mr. Sullivan said Stars Over Texas would use corporate money to cover only "traditional administrative expenses." "Those all will be legally vetted and will be activities such as legal and accounting expenses, office, stationery and telephones," he said.
As of the last reporting period that ended June 30, Stars Over Texas had not made political contributions to any candidate and had spent $2,500 from corporate funds to pay for telephones and office supplies.
Mr. Sullivan said the PAC is changing treasurers, and GOP lawmakers will be designated to take leadership roles in raising the money and dispensing campaign contributions to selected candidates.
"There is a need in any election year to assist and protect Republican incumbents and to help Republican challengers in open seats, and this is another organization to help do that," he said. Mr. Sullivan said Stars Over Texas was started by the speaker's daughter, Christi Craddick, a former lobbyist. Ms. Craddick is paid $83,000 annually from her father's political campaign account to work on his behalf.