Craddick's phone bills should be publicEDITORIAL BOARD, Austin American-Statesman
October 11, 2004
We hoped that Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick would voluntarily release certain official telephone records in light of allegations that outside groups influenced his election to the speaker's post in 2002. State law forbids outside groups from offering assistance to influence the election of a speaker. It stipulates that only House members elect a speaker.
A full release of Craddick's telephone records could answer lingering questions, but the speaker refuses full public disclosure of them.
The American-Statesman sued to obtain access to records of phone calls paid for Texas taxpayers because we believe the speaker is abusing a provision in state law that gives legislators and the lieutenant governor the option to keep secret communications with constituents a dodge his predecessors have declined. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has backed him up.
Given Craddick's role in accepting a check for the political action committee at the center of recent felony indictments by a Travis County grand jury, we think there is a legitimate public interest in knowing whom he was communicating with during the 17 months ending in January.
We now know that days before Craddick's 2002 speaker's election, he picked up a $100,000 corporate check at a Houston restaurant from an executive of a leading nursing home association. The check was made out to Texans for a Republican Majority PAC. Subsequently, the nursing home group, the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care Inc., was indicted on a charge of making an unlawful political contribution to the PAC.
Abbott interpreted the law to make full disclosure optional for Craddick. Craddick released telephone billing records, but blacked out the area code, number dialed and city and state on virtually every line. The records disclose nothing. Two previous speakers, Gib Lewis and Pete Laney, fully disclosed their phone records.
Other officials at state agencies routinely make public their bills of calls made using state phones under the public information act. As well they should, because it's the public paying those bills. It's up to the court to set this matter straight.