New grand jury to examine election spendingBy KELLEY SHANNON, Associated Press Writer
September 23, 2004
AUSTIN (AP) -- A Travis County grand jury's indictments over Texas election spending could be just the beginning of the legal drama.
A new grand jury is to be impaneled next week, and a potentially uncomfortable wait begins for some who already have been called to testify or have had their records subpoenaed.
"Three grand juries have conducted this investigation thus far, with each one in succession building on the work of its predecessor," District Attorney Ronnie Earle said. "More work remains to be done."
On Tuesday, grand jurors indicted three top lieutenants of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and eight corporations in connection with campaign contributions to Texans for a Republican Majority in 2002.
That year's election resulted in the GOP takeover of the Texas House for the first time since Reconstruction, setting the stage for the Legislature to pass a Republican-leaning congressional redistricting plan pushed by DeLay.
Under Texas law, corporate money can't be used for direct political purposes, only for limited administrative costs for campaigns.
Those charged this week included Jim Ellis, who heads Americans for a Republican Majority, DeLay's national fund-raising committee. He was charged with money laundering. John Colyandro, former executive director of Texans for a Republican Majority, faces 14 charges, including money laundering and unlawful acceptance of corporate political contributions. And Warren RoBold, a fund-raising consultant, was charged with nine counts of unlawful acceptance of corporate political contributions.
Lawyers for all three said their clients had no intention of violating campaign finance laws.
Texans for Public Justice, a non-profit group that says it tracks the role of money in politics, filed a complaint in March 2003 with the district attorney about the role of Texans for a Republican Majority in the 2002 campaigns.
"We were not surprised that the major TRMPAC operatives were the first to be indicted. We think the case against them on the surface was pretty strong, and that's why we filed the complaint against them," said Craig McDonald, executive director for Texans for Public Justice.
McDonald doesn't think the indictments will stop there. He said there was widespread election cheating.
Earle and his deputies, citing the ongoing investigation, wouldn't answer questions this week about who remains under grand jury scrutiny.
Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, who has not been indicted, acknowledged accepting a $100,000 check from one of the indicted entities. The Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care gave Craddick the money on behalf of Texans for a Republican Majority.
Craddick's lawyer, Roy Minton, said it was up to the political committee to make sure the money was used legally and that Craddick was not involved in discussions about how to spend the money.
The district attorney has said the grand jury was looking into alleged "irregularities" in Craddick's race for Texas speaker. Some of Craddick's records were subpoenaed last spring. Craddick announced immediately after the November 2002 election that he had sewn up his race for speaker, a position elected by House members.
Prosecutors started their investigation in early 2003 by looking into the activities of the Texas Association of Business, which spent about $1.9 million in the election.
Neither that association nor its president, Bill Hammond, were indicted this week. They aren't worried about future charges, said their attorney, Andy Taylor.
"TAB is very confident that it will not be indicted because it fully complied with all of the campaign finance laws in Texas," Taylor said.
The group has turned over records and supplied witnesses for the grand jury.
The association's actions before the 2002 election were constitutionally protected free speech, Taylor said, emphasizing that the group avoided "express advocacy" campaign spending and concentrated instead on educating the public.
Another name mentioned in the investigation is Mike Toomey, a lobbyist who became Republican Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff after the 2002 election. He resigned from the post earlier this month.
Grand jury subpoenas have inquired about work done for Toomey as a lobbyist.
Toomey was a Texas Association of Business board member who rounded up corporate executives for meetings to finance and execute a direct-mail advertising effort during the election season, the Austin American-Statesman has reported.
Toomey did not return a telephone call from The Associated Press.