Wednesday, March 16, 2005

U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's federal leadership political fund apparently coordinated with a Texas committee to deliver $23,000 in contributions to Texas House candidates, according to documents filed in a civil lawsuit.

DeLay's ARMPAC linked to Texas group

Records cited in a civil suit deepen the controversy over financing of the 2002 election

By R.G. RATCLIFFE, Houston Chronicle
March 16, 2005

AUSTIN - U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's federal leadership political fund apparently coordinated with a Texas committee to deliver $23,000 in contributions to Texas House candidates, according to documents filed in a civil lawsuit.

The documents draw DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority deeper into the ongoing controversy over whether Texans for a Republican Majority illegally used corporate money to help finance the GOP takeover of the Texas House in 2002. Republicans contend the money was spent legally.

DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and his aides have maintained that TRMPAC had nothing to do with his leadership political committee, ARMPAC, though some of his associates worked for both. But the new documents show a working relationship between the groups.

DeLay's relationship to TRMPAC was that of a loose advisory position. ARMPAC is his official leadership committee he uses to raise money for congressional candidates across the United States to help him maintain his position in the House.

The documents also raise questions about whether ARMPAC used corporate funds to raise the money delivered to the Texas candidates. Such use of corporate money for candidates has been at the core of civil lawsuits and criminal investigations into TRMPAC.

Texas law allows corporate money to be used for a committee's administrative purposes but not for political purposes. Republicans claim any money not given directly to a candidate and spent on his behalf is an administrative expenditure.

DeLay spokesman Dan Allen said the ARMPAC expenditures in Texas were legal because the committee at the time kept two accounts: one for corporate money and another for candidate-eligible money. Allen said no corporate money was used to pay for raising candidate money. "All those contributions were legal and proper," Allen said Tuesday.

TRMPAC kept two separate bank accounts for corporate and candidate money, but the ongoing investigation has shown the corporate money was used to pay for candidate fund raising.

The new documents, filed as evidence in a pending civil lawsuit against TRMPAC Treasurer Bill Ceverha, are copies of ARMPAC checks and letters on TRMPAC's stationery that were delivered together to 15 House candidates. The amounts ranged from $1,000 to $2,500.

"We are pleased to send you a contribution of (amount) compliments of Congressman Tom DeLay's political action committee Americans for a Republican Majority," the letter said. "Congressman DeLay is as equally committed to winning a House Republican majority in Texas as he is maintaining a Republican majority in the U.S. Congress."

The letters were signed by Ceverha, but he has testified he never saw most of what TRMPAC sent out under his name.

Republicans claim there was nothing illegal about TRMPAC raising and spending almost $600,000 in corporate money because none was given directly to candidates.

But three of DeLay's associates have been indicted in a Travis County district attorney's investigation of TRMPAC activities. A ruling also is pending in the civil lawsuit brought by losing Democratic candidates who claim TRMPAC violated state election laws.

The new information "weaves the web a little broader," said Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, an advocacy organization that filed the first criminal complaint against TRMPAC in March 2003.

"It has the potential to draw ARMPAC into the criminal investigation," McDonald said. "We haven't seen the level of coordination that ARMPAC checks were being funneled through TRMPAC operatives. So it's a new revelation on how the two PACS might have been working hand in hand."

McDonald said if ARMPAC used corporate money to raise funds for Texas House candidates, it would have the same legal liability under Texas law as TRMPAC.

ARMPAC raised more than $3.2 million during the 2002 election cycle, with more than $1 million of that coming from corporations. ARMPAC paid its fund-raiser, Warren RoBold, more than $233,000.

RoBold is one of three people indicted by a Travis County grand jury in the TRMPAC investigation on charges of violating Texas election law prohibiting corporate spending to influence candidate elections. RoBold raised most of TRMPAC's corporate donations.

RoBold, through his lawyer, Rusty Hardin of Houston, has maintained his innocence. E-mail RoBold released in the pending civil lawsuit show he often worked out of the ARMPAC offices while raising money for TRMPAC. One e-mail message shows RoBold had TRMPAC letterhead delivered to the ARMPAC office.