Sunday, February 20, 2005

Speaker Tom Craddick met with a small group of corporate donors to Texans for a Republican Majority at a Washington, D.C., breakfast just a month before the 2002 election and Craddick's elevation to leader of the Texas House of Representatives.

More Craddick donor links to TRMPAC disclosed

Was Craddick's role about being speaker or electing Republicans?

BY Laylan Copelin, Austin American-Statesman
Sunday, February 20, 2005

Speaker Tom Craddick met with a small group of corporate donors to Texans for a Republican Majority at a Washington, D.C., breakfast just a month before the 2002 election and Craddick's elevation to leader of the Texas House of Representatives.

Two GOP consultants had been planning the D.C. affair for two months, including an early meeting in Austin where they urged Craddick to participate in the fund-raiser in the nation's capital, according to documents that likely will be submitted as evidence in an upcoming civil trial involving the 2002 fund-raising efforts.

A Travis County grand jury last fall indicted the two consultants, John Colyandro and Warren Robold, for their roles in raising corporate money.

As prosecutors continue to investigate Craddick's association with Texans for a Republican Majority, a political action committee, the newest court documents ‹ including e-mails between Colyandro and Robold ‹ further dispel Craddick's 2003 contention he did little for the committee outside of attending one or two fund-raisers.

In one e-mail, Colyandro told Robold, who was seeking fund-raising help from then-U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, that Craddick had faxed a request to the Bush Cabinet officer.

State law prohibits outside groups from trying to influence a speaker's election or a candidate for speaker from accepting help from an outside group.

But Craddick's lawyer, Roy Minton, said Friday that his client legally kept his race for speaker separate from the efforts of Texans for a Republican Majority to elect House members.

Those House members, in turn, eventually supported Craddick in the lawmakers-only vote for speaker.

Minton said that Craddick, a Midland Republican, and the committee just shared a common goal ‹ electing more Republicans ‹ and that what they did was just politics as usual.

He denied that Craddick faxed anything to Abraham.

Latest disclosures

The newly disclosed documents, obtained last week by the Austin American-Statesman, are the latest in a series of materials disclosed over the past year that have shown Craddick raising money for the committee; Colyandro routing $152,000 of the committee's campaign donations through Craddick's Midland office to House candidates who had pledged to support him for speaker; Craddick frequently conferring with the committee's consultants; and, in one instance, collecting a $100,000 corporate check for Texans for a Republican Majority.

The documents also reveal the details of how the consultants raised millions of dollars for the eventual Republican victory. Colyandro, for example, warned his D.C. counterpart, Robold, about the politics of the speaker's election.

"As a general rule, I want to know about (fund-raising) calls to Texas lobbyists before they happen," Colyandro wrote on April 18, 2002. "We have a delicate balancing act because of Speaker politics and I want to inform and direct how we handle those calls."

For two years, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has been investigating whether Texans for a Republican Majority violated the state law that prohibits corporate money from being spent on political campaigns, which is illegal, though spending it on the committee's overhead is allowed.

A year ago, Earle added Craddick to the grand jury investigation after separate allegations that the GOP political committee was involved in the hotly contested race for speaker.

In addition to Colyandro and Robold, the Travis County grand jury indicted Jim Ellis, another DeLay associate based in Washington, and eight corporations that gave money to the political committee.

All the charges are felonies. Earle has dropped charges against three of the corporations in exchange for their promise to cooperate with the investigation.

Minton said Craddick obviously knew that Texans for a Republican Majority was raising corporate donations. As for how the committee was spending it, Minton said, "Tom had no idea."

A high-stakes vote

In the 2002 election, the stakes were unusually high.

The Texas House had new districts, adjusted for the 2000 census, so Republicans were enjoying their best opportunity to end the Democrats' century-long dominance.

Craddick, the longest serving GOP House member, first elected in 1968, was trying to unseat Speaker Pete Laney, a Democrat.

But there also was a group of about a dozen anti-Craddick Republicans who hoped to elect one of their own in a standoff between Laney and Craddick. They were known as the ABC's: Anybody But Craddick.

In the 150-member House, the math for victory was straightforward: Electing 85 or more Republicans favored Craddick, who had successfully cultivated support from GOP House candidates. Electing fewer than 85 would cut into his guaranteed support and favor a coalition of Democrats and ABC Republicans choosing someone else to lead the House.

Against this backdrop, Craddick's longtime friend, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land, created Texans for a Republican Majority. He fashioned the committee after his own Americans for a Republican Majority.

DeLay's Washington associates, Ellis and Robold, worked closely with Colyandro, who was based in Austin.

Texans for a Republican Majority didn't just target Democrats. It also took sides in Republican primaries.

And while documents now disclose the relationship between Craddick and the committee, Texans for a Republican Majority did not have the same relationship with speaker candidates from the ABC camp.

Hungry for money

The new documents show that Texans for a Republican Majority had a voracious need for money.

So-called hard dollars, largely from about a dozen wealthy individuals, went to GOP candidates. Corporate money, called soft dollars, paid for the committee's consultants, pollsters, phone banks and professional fundraisers.

The committee, for example, paid a California phone bank with corporate money to identify likely Republican voters in 20 or so legislative districts. Committee officials have defended such expenses as "administrative" costs that are allowed with corporate money under state law.

On Aug. 6, 2002, three months before the election, Colyandro wrote Robold: "It has become critical that we bring dollars now. On the soft money front, we need to up the take to $750,000. There are too many activities that we must fund.

"On the hard dollar front, we need $1 million."

Two weeks later, Colyandro wrote his fund-raisers that the money for candidates was not coming in fast enough: "I am very concerned about meeting our hard dollar targets. We've had three luncheons/meetings with very little return."

Robold, who was DeLay's corporate fund-raiser, focused on raising corporate money from lobbyists on Washington's K Street.

On Sept. 16, 2002, Colyandro implored Robold: "Any news? I need the dollars desperately. Sorry to sound so needy."

Texans for a Republican Majority was spending money as fast as Robold could raise it. In his message to D.C.-based lobbyists, he claimed corporations could give as much as they want, without it being disclosed: "Just a reminder, all corporate funds are unlimited and non reportable by Texas State law."

In some instances, when corporations asked for legal assurances, Robold sent a letter from Austin lawyer Ed Shack to support his contention.

Several Democratic candidates who lost in 2002 are suing the treasurer of Texans for a Republican Majority, former Dallas state Rep. Bill Ceverha, another Craddick ally, claiming the committee should have reported the $600,000 in corporate donations it ultimately spent.

Colyandro and Ellis were temporarily dropped as defendants in the lawsuit because both face criminal charges arising from the committee's fund raising.

The civil trial begins Feb. 28, and Craddick has been subpoenaed. The e-mails might be introduced as evidence.

Name dropping

It was not unusual for the fund-raisers at Texans for a Republican Majority to drop the names of DeLay or Craddick in their fund-raising efforts.

In his e-mails to the corporate donors and D.C. lobbyists, Robold announced Craddick's October 9-10 visit to the nation's capital: "Tom Craddick, who is the likely next speaker of the Texas State House, will be in town on Thursday. Would you be available to meet with him?"

The e-mails went to AT&T Corp., Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co., Philip Morris USA Inc., Koch Industries Inc., Reliant Energy Inc., El Paso Corp., and the lobbying firm the Federalist Group, among others. Several already had donated to Texans for a Republican Majority.

About 10 showed up at Tortilla Coast, a restaurant, for a 9 a.m. meeting that included Colyandro, Ellis, Robold and Craddick.

Craddick on Friday responded to questions about his D.C. trip only through Minton and his longtime adviser Bill Miller.

They said Craddick's trip was primarily to visit with congressional Republicans, urging them to help elect Republicans to the Texas House with money, endorsements or joint appearances.

They characterized the Tortilla Coast event as "glad-handing" on the way out of town.

Minton said Craddick did not pick up any checks at the event.

"It was just a blah-blah deal," Miller said of the one-hour meeting.

A rousing victory

The Nov. 5, 2002, election exceeded many Republicans' expectations.

The GOP won 88 House seats, and Craddick's support among new members paid off.

As the Republican sweep became apparent on election night, some Democrats in the House immediately began switching their support to Craddick.

Twenty-four hours after the election, several of the dozen or so ABC Republicans met Craddick's lieutenants at the Ruth's Chris Steak House in Austin and signed on to give Craddick unanimous support from Republicans.

The next morning, Craddick announced victory, with 102 members pledged to his election as the first Republican speaker in more than 100 years.

Unsigned thank-you

Colyandro sent Craddick the draft of a thank-you letter on the letterhead of Texans for a Republican Majority. It was to be signed by Craddick and sent to the contributors to the GOP committee.

"We won a major victory election night, and all of us involved with TRMPAC owe you a deep debt of gratitude," the letter said. "We look forward to building on TRMPAC's success and having you as part of our team. Many thanks. Sincerely, Tom Craddick. Speaker-elect."

Minton said that Craddick never signed the draft and that the letter was never sent. He refused to say why, but critics of Craddick say privately the letter would have amounted to a written admission of his role with Texans for a Republican Majority.

"He didn't sign it," Minton said. "End of story."