Thursday, March 31, 2005

Rep. Tom Craddick and a pro-Republican group shared extensive phone calls, fundraisers, campaign checks and mutual promotion while the Midland lawmaker was pushing to become House speaker, a review of civil court records shows. The contacts and cooperation between Mr. Craddick and Texans for a Republican Majority were so extensive that two experts on state campaign laws say that the ban on outside influence in speaker races may have been violated.

Records chronicle Craddick-PAC ties

Exclusive: Speaker's attorney says contact didn't violate law

By CHRISTY HOPPE, Dallas Morning News
Wednesday, March 30, 2005

AUSTIN--Rep. Tom Craddick and a pro-Republican group shared extensive phone calls, fundraisers, campaign checks and mutual promotion while the Midland lawmaker was pushing to become House speaker, a review of civil court records shows.

The contacts and cooperation between Mr. Craddick and Texans for a Republican Majority were so extensive that two experts on state campaign laws say that the ban on outside influence in speaker races may have been violated. Mr. Craddick's attorney said the activities were nowhere close to illegal.

A Travis County grand jury is looking into whether Mr. Craddick received an illegal boost from the political action committee when he sought the leadership post in 2002. Three individuals and eight corporations have been indicted, and the case has drawn national attention because of ties between TRMPAC and U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

While the grand jury deliberations are secret, thousands of pages of civil court records culled by The Dallas Morning News show:

€TRMPAC helped Mr. Craddick ingratiate himself to GOP colleagues by sending him TRMPAC campaign checks to deliver. In all, 25 checks to Republican House candidates worth $177,000 were routed through Mr. Craddick.

€E-mails, phone records and depositions show that TRMPAC shared its campaign intelligence on key races with Mr. Craddick and set up a Washington breakfast for him to meet large corporate donors.

€A TRMPAC official kept tabs on whether potential Republican House candidates would support Mr. Craddick in the speaker's race.

€Committee officials invited Mr. Craddick to accompany them on appointments to solicit individual donors.

€Several corporate checks made out to TRMPAC had cover letters sent in care of Mr. Craddick, even though he has said that he was unconnected to the committee. In at least one instance, Mr. Craddick wrote a personal thank-you note for a contribution made to TRMPAC.

The full House elects a speaker from its membership every two years, and state law prohibits outside influence on the selection. Groups are prohibited from contributing virtually anything of value to a speaker's candidate, who must visit, cajole and persuade at least 75 colleagues to support his or her ascendancy.

In 2002, Republicans took over the Texas House for the first time in 130 years and propelled Mr. Craddick to the speaker's chair, where he presided over a conservative agenda that included a rancorous redistricting battle, budget cuts to prevent tax increases, and limits on damages that can be awarded in lawsuits.

Roy Minton, the criminal defense attorney hired by Mr. Craddick, said the activities culled by The News amount to a list of political gatherings and goal-sharing, and "doesn't even get started touching" on anything illegal.

"I've been watching Texas politics for a long time, and I've never seen it any different than what it was in these elections," Mr. Minton said.

Law's author

After reviewing the list of shared activities, Austin attorney Buck Wood, who helped write the 1973 law governing speakers' races, said he believes TRMPAC went too far in helping Mr. Craddick become speaker.

"Taken as a whole, if this doesn't violate this statute, I don't think that the statute can be violated," said Mr. Wood. He is suing TRMPAC on a separate matter, alleging that it used corporate money in the 2002 campaign.

Craig McDonald, executive director of the campaign finance reform group Texans for Public Justice, said after reviewing the overlapping events compiled by The News that the raising and distributing of money are problematic.

"TRMPAC was a thinly-veiled PAC on behalf of Tom Craddick's race for speaker. That's our opinion," Mr. McDonald said.

He said Mr. Craddick's "intimate and singular involvement" in TRMPAC campaign funds, many of which went to candidates who later supported Mr. Craddick for speaker, is a violation of the law.

"TRMPAC-style committees to support a candidate for speaker or give one person an advantage because they're doling out campaign money ­ that's exactly what the statute was aimed at prohibiting," Mr. McDonald said.

An attorney for TRMPAC said the group's goal was no secret ­ it's in the name. It wanted to elect a Republican majority in the House.

"And I think they assumed the beneficiary of that would be Craddick, although there were other suitors for the position," said Terry Scarborough, a TRMPAC attorney who has been handling civil suits filed against TRMPAC.

Mr. Minton, the attorney for Mr. Craddick, said his client is a politician, and meeting with contributors, trading political information and helping raise money are what the good ones do.

"You show me a politician who says, 'No, I don't think I'll go to a meeting where there'll be a lot of people who are effective getting votes and contributing money,' and I'll show you a dead one," Mr. Minton said.

He said he's been hired to watch out for potential legal problems, "the bad stuff," as he called it. "And I haven't heard any bad stuff yet," he said. In the last three years, TRMPAC tactics, especially its use of more than $600,000 in corporate money to fuel polls, phone banks and fundraisers, have spawned two lawsuits and a criminal inquiry that resulted in the indictments of three individuals and eight corporations. It is illegal in Texas to use corporate or union money in political races.

Early ties

The court records reviewed by The News came in one of those lawsuits, filed by five Democrats who lost 2002 House races to Republicans helped by TRMPAC.

In September 2001, TRMPAC was formed, and Mr. Craddick filed the paperwork that made him a candidate for speaker. Also in the speaker's race were two other Republicans ­ Brian McCall of Plano and Edmund Kuempel of Seguin, who are still House members. They faced Democratic Speaker Pete Laney, whose position rested on which party could win a majority in the House.

Records show that TRMPAC aligned itself early on with Mr. Craddick, a Midland oilfield supplier who had toiled in the House for 33 years.

TRMPAC had hired Republican organizer John Colyandro as its director and needed someone to help prioritize House races, rate the Republican candidates and determine who should receive the committee's contributions and primary endorsements.

The lead prospect, Kevin Brannon, was sent to see Mr. Craddick as part of the TRMPAC interview process. "I think it was just him sort of kicking the tires on me," Mr. Brannon said in a deposition.

Mr. Brannon was hired and, over the next five months, interviewed several dozen GOP House candidates. In at least five interviews, his notes reflect, he documented whether the candidates, if elected, would support Mr. Craddick for speaker.

For instance, he noted on Oct. 15, 2001, that candidate Mark Cole was, "Committed to Craddick." On Nov. 5, he wrote that candidate Bryan Hughes was traveling to Austin and "will meet with Tom Craddick."

Mr. Brannon's connection with Mr. Craddick continued through the next year. On July 18, Mr. Brannon wrote to U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm's office to arrange for Mr. Gramm to attend fundraisers for TRMPAC-endorsed candidates. Mr. Craddick had procured Mr. Gramm's services for TRMPAC, according to the letter.

In July and September, Mr. Craddick was the featured attraction at TRMPAC fundraisers.

Also in September, Mr. Colyandro wrote an e-mail regarding planned trips to meet with GOP donors to solicit contributions in Houston and Dallas. "Please give me a report on who you are seeing so I can check with Tom," Mr. Colyandro wrote.

Beginning in September 2002, Mr. Craddick and TRMPAC officials shared almost daily phone calls, which they explained as political gossip exchanges on various races. But at least 54 calls were made after the election, according to phone records.

In October 2002, TRMPAC officials went through two weeks of planning to line up a breakfast in Washington, D.C., so that Mr. Craddick could meet some of the committee's large corporate contributors.

Show of loyalty

TRMPAC officials did not contact nor lend advice, fundraising or any other assistance to the other Republican speaker candidates, records and interviews show.

Mr. Wood and Mr. McDonald say the loyalty to Mr. Craddick underscores the implication that TRMPAC was an extension of his speaker's race.

Not so, said Mr. Minton.

"The people that were including him and not including the other candidates did it because no one in their right mind thought anybody but Craddick was going to be speaker. And you'd have to be a lamebrain to align yourself with somebody running for speaker who is not going to be speaker," Mr. Minton said.


Section 302.017 of the Texas Government Code states: "A corporation, partnership, association, firm, union, foundation, committee, club, or other organization or group of persons may not contribute or lend or promise to contribute or lend money or other things of value to a speaker candidate or to any other person, directly or indirectly, to aid or defeat the election of a speaker candidate."


Here's a look at the links between Rep. Tom Craddick and the Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee leading up to the November 2002 elections, according to court documents:


August: Kevin Brannon, who will soon be hired as political strategist for TRMPAC, is brought by to meet Mr. Craddick. "I think it was just him sort of kicking the tires on me," Mr. Brannon said later in a court deposition.

September: Mr. Brannon begins interviewing GOP House candidates to determine whom TRMPAC should endorse and contribute to in the primary races. He notes which candidates would pledge their support to Mr. Craddick in the race for House speaker.

Sept. 28: Mr. Brannon notes of candidate Glenda Dawson: "Running per TC," referring to Mr. Craddick.

Oct. 15: Mr. Brannon notes of candidate Mark Cole: "committed to Craddick."

Nov. 5: Mr. Brannon notes of candidate Bryan Hughes: "Going to Austin today ­ will meet with Tom Craddick."

Dec. 5: Mr. Brannon notes that Byron Cook might be persuaded to run, writing: "TC could get Rayford Price, fmr. Speaker to help"


Jan. 2: Mr. Brannon notes of candidate Walt Fair: "Walt ­ Supporting Craddick."

April 18: TRMPAC director John Colyandro tells corporate fundraiser Warren RoBold in an e-mail that they must be cautious about the speaker's race. "As a general rule, I want to know about calls to Texas lobbyists before they happen," Mr. Colyandro writes. "We have a delicate balancing act because of Speaker politics and I want to inform and direct how we handle those calls."

July 18: Mr. Brannon writes to U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm's assistant, Alan Hill, trying to arrange time for the senator to campaign for TRMPAC candidates. "Senator Gramm has told Tom Craddick that he [Mr. Gramm] will assist our targeted candidates, and many of them have contacted TRMPAC to ask for his participation in fundraising events."

July 31: TRMPAC holds a San Antonio fundraiser for the group, with Mr. Craddick as the featured guest.

Aug. 30: TRMPAC board member Beverly Woolley asks fundraiser Susan Lilly if Mr. Craddick could accompany them in meetings arranged to raise TRMPAC money in Houston. (He ends up not attending the meetings.)

Sept. 13-27: TRMPAC collects a $25,000 contribution from Union Pacific earmarked for 11 GOP candidates. Checks are sent to Mr. Craddick to distribute.

Sept. 18: A memo from Dallas businessman Vance Miller to TRMPAC states: "At the request of Tom Craddick and Bill Ceverha, I am enclosing a check to TRMPAC." It was for $10,000.

Sept. 20: TRMPAC phone records show Mr. Brannon and Mr. Craddick begin almost daily contact that continues through the election.

Sept. 23: U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith and Henry Bonilla host a fundraiser for TRMPAC. Mr. Craddick is the special guest.

Sept. 26: In advance of a donation, Mr. Craddick writes a thank-you note to Aegis Corp. for its contribution to TRMPAC.

Oct. 2: Aegis Corp. sends TRMPAC a donation, addressed to Mr. Craddick.

Oct. 10: TRMPAC arranges a breakfast in Washington for Mr. Craddick to meet large TRMPAC donors.

Oct. 18: TRMPAC sends Mr. Craddick checks for 14 candidates totaling $152,000 for him to distribute.

Nov. 5: Republicans win 88 seats, taking a majority in the House for the first time in more than a century.

Nov. 7: A news conference announcement is designed on TRMPAC stationery for Mr. Craddick to show he has enough pledges to become the next speaker. TRMPAC officials say the announcement was not sent.

Nov. 8: Mr. Craddick announces he has the support of enough members to be elected speaker.

November: TRMPAC drafts a thank-you letter to contributors over Mr. Craddick's signature. TRMPAC officials say the letter was not sent.

Nov. 7-Jan. 4, 2003: Mr. Brannon and Mr. Craddick hold post-election talks in 56 phone calls.

Dec. 3: Primedia Corp. sends a $2,500 check for TRMPAC via Mr. Craddick.