Craddick to testify at GOP funds trialFirst of 3 suits by losing Dems starts Monday
By R.G. RATCLIFFE, Houston Chronicle
February 24, 2005
AUSTIN - House Speaker Tom Craddick has been subpoenaed to testify next week in the first trial of three lawsuits claiming Republicans illegally raised and spent corporate money in the 2002 elections.
The lawsuit filed by losing Democratic candidates against Texans for a Republican Majority Treasurer Bill Ceverha parallels a Travis County grand jury investigation that has resulted in indictments against three political consultants. Craddick is a subject of that ongoing investigation.
In addition to Craddick, a subpoena also has been issued to Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond. He once bragged that TAB had spent more than $1.9 million in corporate money to help Republican House candidates in the 2002 campaign, which resulted in a GOP takeover of the Texas House.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs want to show that Hammond's activities were coordinated with those of Texans for a Republican Majority, or TRMPAC.
TRMPAC raised and spent more than $500,000 in corporate donations. Texas election law bans the use of corporate money to influence the outcome of a candidate's election.
The 2002 Republican election victories in about 20 House races boosted Craddick from state representative to speaker, a position elected by a majority of House members rather than voters at large.
Though Craddick is not a defendant in the trial, the case may shed more light on what role he played in helping TRMPAC raise and spend corporate money.
The trial begins Monday. Craddick's lawyer Roy Minton said the speaker has been subpoenaed to testify Tuesday, but he has asked lawyers for the Democratic plaintiffs to set a time when Craddick's testimony would not conflict with House business.
"There's no problem. He'll testify and answer whatever questions are asked of him," Minton said.
Minton said he has no concerns about Craddick testifying in the civil case while the grand jury investigation is proceeding.
TRMPAC was founded by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. DeLay has congressional immunity from being forced to testify in a lawsuit and has not been subpoenaed in the case.
Hammond also is tentatively scheduled to testify Tuesday, said his lawyer, Andy Taylor.
Taylor said he does not think Hammond will be asked to testify about the direct mail campaign TAB used in the elections. He said subpoenas indicate Hammond's testimony will be limited to how TRMPAC used a TAB mailing and helped pay for a telephone bank operation.
For almost two years, Taylor has fought Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle's efforts to investigate TAB's campaign activities. He also has fought a lawsuit brought against TAB by a different set of losing Democratic candidates. Taylor said he has no concern about Hammond testifying in this case.
"We have absolutely nothing to hide, and we look forward to answering any question," Taylor said.
Two lawsuits pending
The current lawsuit pits five losing Democratic candidates against Ceverha, of Dallas. The lawsuit claims Ceverha was part of a conspiracy to violate state election law by raising and spending corporate contributions illegally.
TRMPAC lawyer Terry Scarborough said the plaintiffs will not be able to show Ceverha participated in TRMPAC's activities.
Executive Director John Colyandro and consultant Jim Ellis were dropped from the lawsuit after they were indicted last year on charges connected to TRMPAC's activities.
TRMPAC fund-raiser Warren RoBold also has been indicted in the case.
Another lawsuit against TRMPAC and one against TAB are not close to going to trial, said attorney Randall "Buck" Wood.
The lawsuit that begins Monday before state District Judge Joseph Hart of Austin was brought by Paul Clayton of Orange, Mike Head of Athens, David Lengenfeld of Hamilton, Ann Kitchen of Austin and Danny Duncan of Commerce.