Corporations were not buying TexasRick Casey, Houston Chronicle
Sept. 23, 2004
In a way, the big-money scandal captured in the indictments brought down this week by an Austin grand jury is refreshing.
For a change it doesn't involve anything so seedy as corporate attempts to buy influence in the Texas Legislature.
It involves corporate attempts to buy influence in Washington.
The genius of U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay has been told, but it deserves recapping.
DeLay had already become a champion money magnet when he hit on the idea, early in 2001, to overcome the Texas House of Representatives, whose Democratic majority was thwarting GOP efforts to use the 2000 census to redraw congressional districts to Republican advantage.
DeLay, together with key aides, set up a political action committee for the purpose of helping gain Republican control of the Texas House to enact an extraordinary redistricting law for the second time in the same decade.
The PAC, Texans for a Republican Majority, was a bit of a misnomer. Much of the money didn't come from Texans.
Bad debts and Medicare
Of the eight corporations indicted Tuesday, not one is based in Texas. What's more, of the corporations whose reasons for giving were fairly transparent, those reasons had little or nothing to do with Texas.
The Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, based in Boston, gave $100,000. The corporation, which represents a group of large nursing home operators, had some interest in Texas tort reform, but its main focus seems to have been on Medicare legislation, for which it had hired then-superstar lobbyist Haley Barbour in Washington.
Diversified Collection Services Inc. of San Leandro, Calif. gave $50,000. The company collects debts for the U.S. Treasury Department.
Questerra Corp. of Charlottesville, Va., gave $50,000. The software company is seeking government contracts for homeland security.
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. of Lebanon, Tenn., gave $25,000. Cracker Barrel is cited as a national leader in the restaurant industry for its political activities.
Golf at the Homestead
Westar Energy Inc. of Topeka, Kan., gave $25,000. A month after it gave TRMPAC the donation, Westar executives found themselves playing golf and talking energy policy with DeLay at Virginia's swank Homestead resort.
In an embarrassing e-mail, a Westar executive vice president asked a vice president about the $25,000 donation to the Texas congressman: "What is our connection?"
The vice president laid out plans for large contributions to several other congressmen as well, and explained: "DeLay is House Majority Leader (actually, he was majority whip at the time). His agreement is necessary before the House conferees can push the language we have in place in the House bill."
The language was kept in, until a federal investigation of Westar became public.
Bacardi U.S.A. Inc. of Miami gave $20,000. DeLay was helping the rum company with legislation that would give the company rights to the Havana Club rum label in the United States. The label is used by CubaExport, a subsidiary of the Cuban government, in partnership with Pernod Ricard of France.
The other two indicted corporations were Sears Roebuck of Chicago and Williams Cos., a Tulsa-based energy firm involved in the California energy fraud scandal.
And these were only some of the corporations that poured more than $600,000 into key races for the Texas Legislature.
When our Texas populist forefathers wrote the law prohibiting corporate contributions to politicians, they could hardly imagine a scheme that brought so much cash in from corporations who had no major interest in Austin.
But I think it's safe to say they would be outraged.
If you're not, I'm afraid you've lost some of your Texas soul.