DeLay Says He Was Aware of Fund-Raising MethodsBy PHILIP SHENON and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, New York Times
March 10, 2005
WASHINGTON - Representative Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, said Wednesday that he was aware of how accounts for corporate donations had been set up at a political action committee that is under criminal investigation by a Texas grand jury and that the committee's lawyers closely monitored all fund-raising activities.
Mr. DeLay's comments, made at his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill, were his most detailed public remarks to date on his involvement in the creation and fund-raising activities of the committee, Texans for a Republican Majority.
Discussing the committee's origins, Mr. DeLay said, "Yes, it was my idea, or it was our idea - those of us that wanted to enhance the Republicans who served in the House of Representatives in the Texas Legislature."
The committee, set up in 2001, was instrumental in helping Texas Republicans take control of the Legislature in elections the next year. In turn, that Republican majority redrew the state's Congressional districts, benefiting Mr. DeLay by solidifying Republican control of Congress.
Two of Mr. DeLay's political operatives based in Washington were indicted last September in the Texas investigation, charged with taking part in what prosecutors have described as a plot to funnel corporate donations from the committee to Republican candidates, in violation of state election laws. Texas law bars companies from making donations to state candidates.
The prosecutors in Travis County, Tex., which includes most of Austin, the capital, have not ruled out filing criminal charges against Mr. DeLay, who has been gathering contributions in Washington in recent months for a legal defense fund.
In a sometimes testy exchange at the news conference, Mr. DeLay, the second-most-powerful Republican in the House and his party's most active fund-raiser in Congress, described the indictments as "frivolous" and "a joke."
"Everything that Trmpac did they did under the advice of lawyers," he said, using the committee's acronym (pronounced TRIM-pack). "So this notion that they created a criminal offense, you first have to have intent, which they didn't show in the indictment. Secondly, when you have lawyers advising you every step of the way in writing, it is very hard to make a case stick."
Mr. DeLay said Wednesday that he had only an "advisory capacity" at the committee. He said he was aware of what he described as a careful effort to separate corporate donations, which under Texas law can be used only for administrative costs, from individual donations, which can go to candidates.
"I thought that was a good idea," he said. "The only thing I knew about that was that they created, which I agreed with in my advisory capacity, two separate bank accounts: one to hold the corporate contributions, the legal corporate contributions, and one to hold the legal campaign contributions."
In a videotaped deposition played at a civil trial in Texas last week, the committee's former executive director testified that Mr. DeLay did not come up with the idea of creating the committee and suggested that the House majority leader had little to do with day-to-day operations. The former executive director, John Colyandro, is among those indicted in Texas.
Dan Allen, a spokesman for Mr. DeLay, said the statement that the organization was "our idea" was not new, since Mr. DeLay has acknowledged sitting on the advisory board. Coming up with the idea "is kind of what an advisory board does from the outside," Mr. Allen said.
The civil trial in Texas was prompted by a lawsuit filed against Texans for a Republican Majority by Democratic candidates who were defeated in the 2002 elections. They argued that the committee had violated Texas's century-old ban on corporate contributions in political races.
Testimony ended Friday in the nonjury trial in Austin, and a verdict from the judge who heard the case is expected within weeks.
The trial produced no testimony tying Mr. DeLay to any illegality, with some witnesses suggesting that he had only a minor role in the operations of Texans for a Republican Majority.
But documents subpoenaed for the trial and entered as evidence in the case showed that Mr. DeLay was more actively involved in raising corporate contributions for the committee than was previously known.
An e-mail exchange from the computer files of a member of the committee's advisory board notes that a "finance committee" conference call in October 2002 was postponed at Mr. DeLay's request "because of action on Iraq."
Other documents show how often Mr. DeLay's name was cited by the committee's fund-raisers when they were seeking donations. An e-mail message sent by Mr. Colyandro on Sept. 20, 2002, asked that a telephone call be made to a prominent Texas lawyer for his help at a fund-raising event the following week. "He needs a push," Mr. Colyandro wrote. "Please tell him how important he is and how important this is to T. D."