Business group sued againLawsuit says TAB, GOP groups were in cahoots in 2002 election.
BY Laylan Copelin, Austin American-Statesman
Friday, April 1, 2005
With its defense in one lawsuit bolstered by more than a year of inaction by the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court, the state's largest business organization now faces a second battle front over its 2002 election activities for the Republican Party.
Austin lawyer Buck Wood on Thursday added the Texas Association of Business and its president, Bill Hammond, to a second, slow-moving lawsuit.
They are accused in the second lawsuit of conspiring with Texans for a Republican Majority, a political action committee to elect Republicans to the Texas House of Representatives, in part, based on whether the candidates supported Speaker Tom Craddick.
The association also is accused of violating election laws by spending $1.9 million of corporate money on mailers to voters.
If this sounds like "Groundhog Day," the Bill Murray movie in which his character relives the same day over and over again, it should. Those same allegations against TAB have appeared in news reports for a couple of years and were repeated in a civil trial just completed against Texans for a Republican Majority. A judge's ruling in that case is pending.
Thursday's legal maneuver could put the Texas Association of Business where officials for Texans for a Republican Majority have been for the past two years: Answering questions in a civil lawsuit even as prosecutors investigate allegations that they violated state election laws.
Association lawyer Andy Taylor stalled the first lawsuit brought by Wood on behalf of Democrats by arguing his client's free speech rights.
State law prohibits spending corporate money on campaigns.
However Taylor has argued that the business group didn't violate the law because the mailers it sent to voters were educational, not political.
By raising the conspiracy issue, Wood aims to sidestep the free speech argument Taylor used in his appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.
For 14 months, the high court, without explanation, has not ruled on preliminary issues about whether Hammond has to answer Wood's questions or produce certain evidence in his original lawsuit.
In the new pleadings, Wood accuses the two groups of coordinating their campaign efforts to maximize their effect on the election, including timing their ads and supporting candidates based on whom those candidates supported for the Texas speaker.
The lawsuit claims the association's efforts were an illegal campaign contribution to Texans for a Republican Majority.
Taylor argued that state law does not include the concept of illegal coordination: "These unfounded claims by defeated candidates are dead on arrival."