Indicted adviser fights bid to curb corporate givingGOP consultant should reserve commenting on the bill, critic says
By R.G. RATCLIFFE, Houston Chronicle
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
AUSTIN -- A Republican political consultant under indictment on charges of taking illegal corporate contributions in the 2002 House races is urging lawmakers to defeat a bill to tighten the state's ban on corporate and labor union spending in Texas political campaigns.
John Colyandro was indicted by a Travis County grand jury last year on charges of illegally accepting corporate contributions for Texans for a Republican Majority, or TRMPAC.
Colyandro, as executive director of the Texas Conservative Coalition, a bipartisan group of 83 House and Senate members, recently wrote an analysis for the group urging legislators to vote against a bill that would completely ban corporate and union money from Texas elections.
"The Texas Conservative Coalition cannot support any attempt to curtail or limit the freedom of speech as secured under the First Amendment," the analysis says.
Fred Lewis, executive director of Campaigns for People, said Colyandro should have stayed away from commenting on the bill as long as he is under indictment on campaign finance law violations.
"It seems to me that someone who has been indicted for allegedly violating a statute should not be allowed to analyze bills to clarify the law," Lewis said. "It seems to me that they are too emotionally involved and have too many conflicts of interests."
Colyandro, who has worked for the coalition for years, said Tuesday his job is to analyze bills from a conservative perspective, not how the legislation affects him. He said the analysis is consistent with one he wrote on a proposed election law change in 2001.
"My job with the coalition is to review all the important pieces of legislation that is making its way through the Texas Legislature without regard to any particular member's interests on any particular interests on part of staff here," Colyandro said.
A Travis County grand jury under the direction of District Attorney Ronnie Earle has been investigating the use of corporate money by TRMPAC and the Texas Association of Business in the 2002 elections to affect state House races.
Republicans have claimed the law banning corporate money in Texas elections is unclear.
House Bill 1348 by state Reps. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, and Todd Smith, R-Bedford, would ban corporate and labor union money from being used in elections and would restrict the use of so-called issue ads 60 days before an election.
The bill is languishing in the House Elections Committee with only 13 days left for a House bill to be voted out of a House committee.
Colyandro said the conservative viewpoint is that the legislation would violate First Amendment free speech rights.
"The position is very fundamental that the issue here is that there should be no prior restraint on speech, and one of the effects of House Bill 1348 is to put prior restraint on speech," Colyandro said.
The House bill has 93 authors and co-sponsors, including 24 of the 69 House members who belong to the conservative coalition.