TRMPAC trial ends with focus on DeLay, CraddickThough they aren't defendants, their roles in GOP funding are key
By R.G. RATCLIFFE, Houston Chronicle
March 5, 2005
AUSTIN - A civil lawsuit over Republican spending of corporate cash to influence 2002 Texas House elections ended Friday with lawyers for both sides arguing over whether the trial had anything to do with U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay or Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick.
DeLay and Craddick never appeared in court, and neither was a named defendant in the lawsuit brought by five losing Democratic House candidates in the 2002 elections. But throughout a week of testimony there was never much doubt that the trial was about Craddick, R-Midland, and DeLay, R-Sugar Land.
The trial was simple at its core, with the Democrats trying to prove that Texans for a Republican Majority, or TRMPAC, violated state election law by raising and spending almost $600,000 in corporate cash illegally to affect the outcome of 23 House elections in 2002.
TRMPAC was founded by Jim Ellis, who runs DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority, and Republican political consultant John Colyandro. Ellis has said TRMPAC was founded at DeLay's direction.
The only defendant in the civil lawsuit was TRMPAC Treasurer Bill Ceverha. Defense lawyers argued during this week's trial that all corporate spending in the 2002 campaign was legal.
The case is expected to be decided by state District Judge Joseph Hart sometime in the next two to six weeks. Hart, a Democrat, served as a judge for 17 years and as the Travis County presiding judge before stepping down from the court in 1999. He now is a visiting judge.
Winning a Republican majority in the House was crucial to electing Craddick as speaker because the members choose their leader. And it was pivotal to DeLay's efforts to push a congressional redistricting plan through the Legislature to give Republicans a majority in Texas' delegation.
But Republican lawyer Terry Scarborough went out of his way in his closing arguments to distance DeLay and Craddick from the proceedings.
Scarborough told reporters afterward that a week of testimony never once linked the pair with establishing or running TRMPAC.
"This trial will tell you Tom DeLay wasn't manipulating the election through TRMPAC," he said. "Tom DeLay's involvement in TRMPAC would die of loneliness in a thimble."
Cris Feldman, a lawyer for the Democrats, said the trial may not have been about DeLay, but that there was a great deal of evidence that TRMPAC was born out of DeLay's political operation.
"Those exhibits in there ... show Tom DeLay, at his direction, had his operatives come down here and set up Texans for a Republican Majority," Feldman said. "These are his people. Tom DeLay's daughter was on the soft, corporate money payroll. And she sent an e-mail down here talking about our people are coming down to Texas."
The trial put a new focus on the ethics issues that already have resulted in a U.S. House ethics committee reprimand for DeLay.
At the same time, a new ethics controversy has erupted around the majority leader over whether federal law was violated if a lobbyist paid for a hotel room while DeLay was on a trip to London.
And CBS' 60 Minutes this Sunday will feature a piece reviewing the indictments against three of DeLay's associates, including Ellis and Colyandro, that were returned last year by a Travis County grand jury in connection to TRMPAC's corporate spending in the 2002 state House elections. That investigation continues.
Political committees can legally raise corporate money in Texas but can spend the money on only administrative functions.
Throughout the week, Scarborough argued that any money TRMPAC spent on anything other than a direct donation to a candidate was an administrative expense.
He said TRMPAC kept two bank accounts to make certain corporate money was never commingled with the individual donations that could be spent on candidates.