Records link GOP, business effortsCorporate money paid for the list used to get out the vote, tout candidates
By Laylan Copelin, Austin American-Statesman
Saturday, February 5, 2005
As a California phone bank was urging a select group of Texans to vote for Republican legislative candidates during the final days of the 2002 election, Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond was touting those candidates in a letter mailed to the same likely GOP voters.
It was no coincidence that the phone calls and Hammond's letter targeted the same list, created with corporate money from Texans for a Republican Majority, a political committee led by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land.
The parallel events, revealed in documents obtained by the Austin American-Statesman, provide further evidence that GOP fund-raisers and backers may have used corporate contributions to coordinate their election efforts and support individual candidates. State law prohibits using corporate money for political activity, which both groups deny doing, but a Travis County grand jury indicted three Republican consultants last September as part of a two-year criminal investigation.
The two groups' responses to the latest revelations also demonstrate that their versions of what happened in 2002 continue to change over time.
A year ago, Hammond, through his lawyer Andy Taylor, told the American-Statesman that the California phone bank, Contact America, billed TAB by mistake and the state's largest business organization never used the phone bank's mailing list.
Now documents, including e-mails, invoices and voided checks, show that TAB did use the mailing list for a letter-writing campaign that complemented get-out-the-vote efforts by Texans for a Republican Majority.
Lawyers for Democrats accuse the two organizations of conspiring to circumvent a law barring corporate money from being spent on political activity. Taylor and Terry Scarborough, who represents Texans for a Republican Majority, said their clients never used corporate money to advocate the election or defeat of any candidate.
"With corporate money they identified voters in specific districts, they mailed endorsement letters to those voters and then made get-out-the-vote calls to the voters," said Austin lawyer Cris Feldman, who is suing both groups on behalf of Democrats. "If that's not electioneering, what is?"
Taylor said TAB should be judged on its words to voters, not its actions.
"Under the First Amendment, it's the content of the speech, not the motivation of the speaker that counts," Taylor said.
TAB has refused to identify the corporations that donated $1.9 million to send 4 million pieces of mail to likely voters in two dozen crucial legislative races, claiming that the mail was protected speech under the First Amendment and not regulated by campaign finance disclosure laws.
In his letter, Hammond wrote that the GOP legislative candidates would "stand" with TAB and support its goals.
For example, Austin Republican Todd Baxter was challenging then-Rep. Ann Kitchen, a Democrat.
"Todd Baxter stands with us in promoting the principles that will ensure Texas remains a leader in creating new jobs . . ." Hammond wrote. "Todd Baxter also agrees that we must hold the line on new and higher taxes . . . and Todd understands the importance of low taxes to a good business climate in Texas."
A year ago Hammond, through his lawyer, said he believed that TAB never sent the letters.
Last week TAB's printer, Bob Thomas of Thomas Graphics in Austin, disclosed that the letter was mailed, calling it "TAB's endorsement letter," a characterization that Taylor disputes.
Taylor said the letter avoids the endorsement tag because it never used so-called magic words such as "support" or "vote for" a particular candidate. Feldman argues that "magic words" is not the legal test and that Hammond's letter is an endorsement. "If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck," he said.
Here's how TAB and Texans for a Republican Majority worked together on the Contact America project:
* John Colyandro, executive director of the Republican political committee, hired the phone bank, helped write the questions for an October telephone survey that identified likely GOP voters and planned for a follow-up letter campaign to those voters. He also copied his work to Jim Ellis, a DeLay aide who monitored Colyandro's activities for his boss. Colyandro also had Contact America send its $65,175 bill to TAB.
* Hammond forwarded Contact America's telephone scripts to TAB's lawyer for review, then approved paying the bill with corporate money before voiding the check days later. Hammond, through his lawyer, said he doesn't remember why he voided TAB's check to Contact America.
* Following Colyandro's instructions, Contact America sent the mailing list to TAB's printer, Thomas Graphics. TAB had been mailing its ads to a broader audience, but the phone bank's list gave Hammond a select audience of likely GOP voters to send his letter.
* Colyandro ultimately paid the $65,175 bill with corporate money, then spent an additional $48,039 from individuals to have Contact America call likely GOP voters again.
Colyandro, Ellis and Warren Robold, DeLay's top fund-raiser, have been indicted on charges of violating state election laws.
When the criminal investigation began more than two years ago, officials with TAB and Texans for a Republican Majority said they did not work together. But in recent months it has been shown that Hammond and Colyandro worked together on TAB's mailers.
Colyandro and his lieutenants met regularly with candidates. They demanded and got the candidates' campaign plans. Kevin Brannon, a consultant who worked for Colyandro, also briefed at least one candidate about TAB's mailing program.
While Taylor contends that TAB never coordinated its plans with candidates, Feldman insists the organizations circumvented state law.
"There was a concerted effort and a game plan to run roughshod over the state's 100-year ban against using corporate money for political purposes," Feldman said.
TAB letters helped candidates
Excerpts from one of the Texas Association of Business letters to targeted voters about Republican Glenda Dawson of Pearland, who ultimately won her race for the Legislature.
'Specifically, Glenda Dawson believes deeply that we need property tax relief for local homeowners and businesses to spur the economy. Glenda also agrees that we don't need any new taxes in Texas.'
'Glenda Dawson believes Texans already pay more than their fair share in taxes, and Glenda understands the importance of low taxes to a good business climate in Texas.'