Friday, September 24, 2004

U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Texas Speaker Tom Craddick quickly distanced themselves from a GOP political action committee this week after a state grand jury indicted three of the group's consultants.

Records show ties of DeLay, Craddick to PAC

Evidence suggests that both had larger roles than they claim

By R.G. RATCLIFFE, Houston Chronicle
Sept. 24, 2004

AUSTIN - U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Texas Speaker Tom Craddick quickly distanced themselves from a GOP political action committee this week after a state grand jury indicted three of the group's consultants.

But a Houston Chronicle review of documents from civil lawsuits and government databases involving Texans for a Republican Majority show DeLay and Craddick were kept abreast of the PAC's operations and were personally involved in the committee's fund-raising activities.

DeLay's daughter and personal political consultants ran TRMPAC. DeLay was on the board of advisers and was the featured guest at fund-raisers.

Craddick consulted frequently with TRMPAC staff. He accepted donations for the PAC and passed along contributions from TRMPAC to Republican House candidates during the 2002 elections.

In the wake of the felony indictments returned Tuesday, though, DeLay and Craddick describe a hands-off relationship with TRMPAC.

"I had no idea what they were doing," Craddick said.

DeLay said, "I was not involved in the day-to-day operations of TRMPAC ... I raised money for them and made appearances for them when they had fund-raisers."

Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, a liberal advocacy group, said he has "no doubt" that Craddick and DeLay had decision-making roles with TRMPAC even if they were not official leaders of the committee. "There are public documents that tie DeLay to TRMPAC closer than he wants to be tied," said McDonald, whose group filed a criminal complaint against TRMPAC last year.

'Common players'

The grand jury _ under the direction of Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat _ indicted John Colyandro, TRMPAC's executive director; Jim Ellis, the executive director of DeLay's leadership committee Americans for a Republican Majority; and Warren RoBold, a fund-raising consultant for both political committees. Eight corporations also were indicted.

The indictments accuse the men and corporations of violating a state law banning the use of corporate or labor-union donations to influence the outcome of a candidate's election. They have denied wrongdoing.

TRMPAC raised about $600,000 in corporate money that was used to help 20 Republican candidates win House seats in 2002, giving the GOP a legislative majority for the first time since Reconstruction. A third of all of TRMPAC's donations came from corporations.

As a result, Craddick was elected House speaker, and DeLay in 2003 pushed a redistricting bill through the Legislature that likely will result in a Republican majority in the state's congressional delegation after this fall's elections.

Earle has said the investigation is continuing into the 2002 election activities. And DeLay faces a possible House ethics-committee investigation under a complaint filed by U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston, who lost his seat under DeLay's redistricting plan.

So, both Craddick and DeLay have political and legal reasons to put TRMPAC at arm's length.

"It's convenient for critics to try to lump everyone together and try to tie their political adversaries to an interesting press story. But the record should be set straight," said DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella.

Grella said DeLay's relationship with TRMPAC was different from the one he had with ARMPAC. Grella said all decisions about how money should be raised or spent by TRMPAC were determined by the TRMPAC staff.

"There are common players for sure. But the fact of the matter is he was not a day-to-day decision maker," Grella said. "Look at the papers that establish Texans for a Republican Majority. Tom DeLay's name (is) not on those."

Even if DeLay and Craddick were not calling the shots day by day, the documentary evidence shows TRMPAC had close links with both men.

Election communication

Most of the documents come from a civil lawsuit filed by some Democrats who lost to Republicans funded by TRMPAC. Other documents come from IRS filings and federal investigations of Enron Corp. and Westar Energy Inc.

Colyandro testified in the civil lawsuit that he and Kevin Brannon, TRMPAC political consultant, spoke frequently to Craddick on the phone and in his office to discuss House races. He said Craddick also attended at least one TRMPAC fund-raiser.

"He was probably the most active and engaged member of the Texas House in terms of electoral politics on the House side," Colyandro testified. "So he would have been an excellent resource for, for information."

Phone records show Brannon called Craddick 32 times in the weeks before the 2002 election and another 60 times in the weeks after.
Colyandro, by e-mail in October 2002, had the TRMPAC accountant cut $152,000 in checks for 14 Republican House candidates and send the checks by FedEx to Craddick's Midland office. Craddick's aides distributed the checks.

An executive for Mariner Health Care Inc. delivered to Craddick in October 2002 a $100,000 check from The Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care made out to TRMPAC. Craddick, who passed the check along, said this week he did not know what was in the envelope. The alliance is one of the corporations under indictment.

And the Nov. 7, 2002, news conference for Craddick to claim he had the votes to become speaker was announced by Colyandro on letterhead paid for by TRMPAC.

Ellis, the executive director of ARMPAC, set up TRMPAC at DeLay's direction to help win control of the Legislature. Ellis also had personal ties to Colyandro.

Ties to DeLay

DeLay's daughter, Dani DeLay Ferro, was a paid consultant for ARMPAC and TRMPAC, setting up fund-raising events.

RoBold had been DeLay's fund-raiser for several years.

E-mail disclosed in the investigation of Enron showed that RoBold, on behalf of DeLay, in 2000 directed Enron contributions to the Texas Republican Party. RoBold was the ARMPAC fund-raiser before also going to work for TRMPAC.

While raising money for TRMPAC, RoBold kept his office in the offices of DeLay's ARMPAC, according to testimony by Colyandro.

Colyandro testified in a civil lawsuit that RoBold was assigned to raise $600,000 in corporate cash in Washington for TRMPAC. Almost all the controversial corporate money came from RoBold events, most of which featured DeLay as the honored guest.

A fund-raising brochure created by RoBold said corporate donations would be used to help candidates:

"Unlike other organizations, your corporate contribution to TRMPAC will be put to productive use. Rather than just paying for overhead, your support will fund a series of productive and innovative activities designed to increase our level of engagement in the political arena."

The same brochure contained a direct solicitation for donations from DeLay and put him at the top of the list of advisory board members.

Letters and e-mail show at least some donors believed they were giving money to a DeLay committee. A June 2002 letter accompanying a donation of $25,000 for TRMPAC from The Williams Companies Inc. was addressed to "Congressman DeLay." The company was one of the corporations indicted by the grand jury.

Internal e-mail from another of the indicted companies _ Westar Energy Inc. of Kansas _ had one executive asking why the company was making donations to Texas legislative races. The reply cited DeLay's position in the House.

DeLay's position on the advisory board of TRMPAC also gave him an opportunity to know what was happening at the committee.

Colyandro testified in a civil lawsuit that DeLay participated in "one or two conference calls" after TRMPAC had its launch to discuss "the general direction of the organization, what our objectives would be and what we hoped to accomplish."

When asked whether advisory board members, including DeLay, were aware of how money was being raised, Colyandro said: "They certainly had an awareness, particularly because they participated in certain _ some of those events."

Colyandro said he also sent routine updates to advisory board members.

A Jan. 12, 2002, e-mail message from DeLay Ferro to TRMPAC Texas fund-raiser Susan Lilly asked for name tags for an event in Austin to include Ellis, ARMPAC staffer Mike Murphy and fund-raiser RoBold.

"They are some of our staff from Washington that will be in town for the event," DeLay Ferro wrote. A flier for that fund-raiser featuring Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris listed the "TRMPAC Board" as being headed by DeLay. "Corporate Contributions are Welcome."