Travis grand jury's indictments: Only the first shoe to drop?San Antonio Express-News
Sept. 26, 2004
In Austin, many believe that the Travis County grand jury's corporate campaign spending indictments will be followed by other charges over the GOP's final takeover of state government.
And many wonder if Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick (who hand carried a $100,000 corporate check that led to some of the charges, his attorney admits); U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, rainmaker of the cash in question, and other luminaries in the GOP's corporate conservative wing will be ensnared.
It started almost two years ago, after the GOP completed its sweep of the state by replacing former Speaker Pete Laney with Craddick amid charges that the Texas Association of Business (TAB) had used corporate cash illegally.
Texas banned corporate money from political campaigns a century ago, but allows it for administrative costs like rent and utilities.
"There was a TAB complaint and (Travis County District Attorney) Ronnie Earle had started an investigation," recalls Craig McDonald, head of Texans for Public Justice, a campaign finance watchdog group. "About a month or two into that, we asked that he expand the investigation to look into the TRMPAC (Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee) corporate expenditures."
Over a 22-month period, three grand juries issued more than 100 subpoenas and examined reams of documents before bringing charges. In announcing the indictments, Earle said that a new grand jury will continue the probe next month.
"Ronnie Earle should be commended," said Fred Lewis, a longtime advocate of limiting the role of big money in politics. "Anyone who has watched him will say that he has done a painstaking, fair and thorough investigation."
But McDonald, whose group has amassed detailed files that point to other improprieties, believes that this is only the beginning.
"We would be disappointed if it stopped here and there weren't more indictments," he said. "The lawlessness during the 2002 elections was widespread, and it goes well beyond the first round of indictments that have already reached into the inner circle of Tom DeLay's office and have engulfed Speaker Craddick.
"To hear their claims now, they hardly know what TRMPAC was or is," he chuckled. "But documents and information show that Craddick was certainly at the center of TRMPAC's operations; that he was constantly in communication with TRMPAC, raised money on behalf of TRMPAC — both legal and illegal corporate contributions — and he was the conduit for TRMPAC contributions to other Republican candidates, which appears to violate the post-Sharpstown ethics laws (that banned campaign expenditures intended to influence the election of a House speaker)."
McDonald speculates that others, including the target of the initial complaint, will be charged.
"I would be surprised if TAB didn't get indicted, particularly because the indictments that came out don't appear to be shy at all. I don't know who they're going to indict but I would be surprised if the next round of indictments did not include Tom Craddick and (TAB President) Bill Hammond or others at TAB."
And late Friday, the Stars Over Texas PAC, which many believed is TRMPAC's latest reincarnation, returned $109,000 in corporate money, presumably because it could only be spent to administer the $33,250 of noncorporate money the new Republican group raised.