Ex-FEC leader says PAC crossed lineHe says Republican group didn't report finances properly
By CHRISTY HOPPE / Dallas Morning News
March 2, 2005
AUSTIN _ A former Federal Election Commission chairman testified Tuesday that Texans for a Republican Majority illegally spent about $600,000 in corporate money for political purposes in 2002 House races.
Trevor Potter, who also served as legal counsel for the presidential campaigns of former President George Bush and John McCain, told the court that he believes the political action committee TRMPAC failed to report contributions and expenditures, as required by law, and trampled the 100-year-old ban on using corporate money for political campaigns.
"I think the line in Texas is very clear," Mr. Potter said. "In many ways they did not abide by the Texas election laws."
Also testifying Tuesday, Texas Association of Business president Bill Hammond acknowledged that his group worked with TRMPAC to target 23 House races. He said TRMPAC and TAB met on numerous occasions to keep each other informed of mailings, phone banks and other political activities.
The business association also spent $1.9 million in corporate money on the 2002 campaign, and those actions are under scrutiny by a grand jury and are the subject of a separate lawsuit.
In the TRMPAC suit, five Democrats who lost their House races claim they were damaged by the illegal use of corporate money and are suing TRMPAC committee treasurer Bill Ceverha.
The district attorney's office, other lawyers and national publications are carefully watching the trial because of its links to pending criminal cases, lawsuits and the political network established by U.S. Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
Mr. DeLay was the founder of Americans for a Republican Majority, headed by his aide Jim Ellis, and lent his name and support to establish Texans for a Republican Majority, headed by John Colyandro. Mr. DeLay's chief fund-raiser, Warren RoBold, tapped corporate donors for both political committees.
Mr. Ellis, Mr. Colyandro and Mr. RoBold were indicted last September in Travis County on charges of illegal campaign activities and have been dropped from the lawsuit pending the outcome of their criminal cases.
In Washington on Tuesday, Mr. DeLay called the case a "frivolous lawsuit."
"I'm not watching at all," he said. "That's a group of losers that are trying to get rich quick and using the Texas legal system for their own political purposes."
In the courtroom, Mr. Ceverha has testified he was only marginally involved with TRMPAC.
His lawyers also have argued that the $600,000 in corporate money was spent on administrative overhead _ the one allowable exception for spending such funds. They also have said that because the money was not used for one particular candidate, that it is not a political expenditure.
But Mr. Potter was taken through a list of what the corporate dollars were used for _ direct mail pieces, political consultants, polling, voter identification, contributions, fund raising and GOP conferences _ and said each would be prohibited under state law. "Overhead expenses are not related to political activity," he said. "It's not been an area of law of any great controversy."
Staff writer Todd J. Gillman contributed to this report.