Friday, April 1, 2005

Unlike other organizations, your corporate contributions to TRMPAC will be put to productive use,” reads the document subpoenaed from Texans for a Republican Majority Executive Director John Colyandro. It’s one of hundreds of exhibits offered into evidence for a recent civil trial—and presumedly, presented to the Travis County grand jury for its ongoing criminal investigation as well. Read the article at the Texas Observer.

TRMPAC in its own words

Exhibits from a civil trial reveal potential illegality and influence peddling

Jake Bernstein | April 01, 2005 | Texas Observer

Unlike other organizations, your corporate contributions to TRMPAC will be put to productive use,” reads the document subpoenaed from Texans for a Republican Majority Executive Director John Colyandro. It’s one of hundreds of exhibits offered into evidence for a recent civil trial—and presumedly, presented to the Travis County grand jury for its ongoing criminal investigation as well. The political brochure—paid for with corporate money—was aimed at donors to the Tom DeLay-founded PAC, and titled “TRMPAC GOALS.”

What, you may ask, made TRMPAC so “productive” that it could accomplish what “other” political organizations had been unable to do in a century of political campaigning?

It continues: “Rather than just paying for overhead, your support will fund a series of productive and innovative activities designed to increase our level of engagement in the political arena.”

Specifically, TRMPAC took corporate money in 2002 from companies with business before the Texas Legislature or the U.S. Congress and used it for fund-raising, phone banks, polling, and campaign support for individual state candidates. The interpretation of what constituted legal administrative expenses—up until now—consisted primarily of items such as rent, utilities, and clerical needs. Spending corporate or union money on candidates has been illegal in Texas since 1905, when farsighted legislators recognized that if the vast treasuries of corporations and unions were applied to elections, they could easily overwhelm our democratic system.

All told, TRMPAC spent $1.5 million, of which more than $600,000 was undeclared corporate money. (The PAC’s use of corporate cash went unreported to the Texas Ethics Commission.) TRMPAC documents, entered as exhibits during a week-long civil trial brought by losing Democratic candidates that ended March 4, refer to the historic opportunity that presented itself in 2002. (At press time, Senior District Judge Joe Hart, before whom the case was tried, had yet to reach a verdict.) Redistricting in 2001 had created new, solidly Republican House districts. And a number of corporate interests were bursting with pent-up desire for goodies past legislatures had failed to bestow.

And then there was Representative Tom Craddick (R-Midland). (See “Scandal in the Speaker’s Office,” Feb. 27, 2004.) Documents from the trial reveal that Craddick was intimately involved in TRMPAC activities: distributing checks, accepting corporate donations, attending fundraisers, reviewing prospective candidates, and talking with contributors. He did all of this while running for speaker of the Texas House, the crown on a 34-year legislative career. Craddick’s participation in the TRMPAC campaign may have violated a Texas statute designed to prevent outsiders from influencing a race to elect House speaker and a speaker candidate from trading favors for votes. Craddick’s attorney Roy Minton argues that no laws were broken and that all Craddick did was try to get Republicans elected, which he had been doing for 34 years.

An e-mail—one of several—from TRMPAC corporate fundraiser Warren Robold gives a glimpse of how the PAC saw Craddick’s involvement. Robold wrote Drew Maloney, a former DeLay legislative director turned lobbyist, on the eve of a Craddick visit to Washington, D.C. The e-mail hints that the selling point for corporate funders is Craddick as “the likely next Speaker.” Robold suggests that someone from the Kansas-based energy giant, Koch Industries, might be interested in meeting Craddick. (It’s not clear if the meeting ever happened.) The match would make sense. Charles Koch is a founding member of the Cato Institute and a big campaign donor. (The company’s PAC gave $3,000 to TRMPAC in 2002 and $913,359 in corporate money to federal Republican candidates, according to TPJ and the Center for Responsive Politics.) In recent years, Koch’s facilities in Texas have been fined millions of dollars for environmental and safety violations.

The thread that runs through the TRMPAC scandal is the appearance of influence peddling. Unlike other organizations, TRMPAC often spelled out exactly what corporate contributors might expect for their donations. (See “Rate of Exchange,” March 12, 2004.) In another e-mail exchange, Robold asks Maloney for the names of companies facing asbestos liability claims that might support TRMPAC. (Five months after the election, the Fort Worth Star Telegram reported that the state of Texas hired Maloney for a sizeable fee to lobby on its behalf in the nation’s Capitol. The Texas Office of State Federal Relations confirms that Maloney is still working with the agency.) Tort reformers, who wanted to liberate companies from civil lawsuit damages, were a major force in the TRMPAC coalition. Although Speaker Craddick and the TRMPAC majority in the House passed a mammoth tort reform measure in 2003, tort reformers couldn’t surmount opposition to asbestos “reform” in the Senate. They are trying again this session.

Maloney also relates in his e-mails that he will be delivering “2 checks from Reliant” to “TD” (Tom DeLay). The circumstances under which DeLay sealed the Reliant deal earned him a rebuke from the U.S. House ethics committee in 2004. In early June 2002, DeLay held a two-day golf tournament at the Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Virginia. The cost of attending the event was a corporate contribution of $25,000 to $50,000. Five energy companies were invited by Maloney to attend: El Paso Corp., Mirant, Reliant Energy, Westar Energy, and Williams Companies. (DeLay’s dealings with Westar would earn a separate rebuke from the committee.) The golfing took place just before a House-Senate conference on an omnibus energy bill. (It’s understandable why, four months later, Maloney would complain about Reliant’s tardiness.) The Homestead event was supposed to benefit equally TRMPAC and DeLay’s Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC), according to an e-mail from an ARMPAC staffer to TRMPAC’s accountant.

The Majority Leader has insisted that there was no relationship between the solicited money and any actions to influence the legislative process in Congress. Furthermore, DeLay has claimed—while lashing out at Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle—that he had no more than an advisory role in TRMPAC. Still, it’s not hard to see why the Williams Company might be confused about where to send the check and who was in charge (see here ).

If Tom DeLay set the tone for TRMPAC, Mike Toomey may have been a key player in keeping the operation moving forward on the ground. (Toomey refused to comment for this article.) During the civil trial, political consultant Chuck McDonald testified about regular meetings between himself, Colyandro, Texas Association of Business (TAB) President Bill Hammond, and then-lobbyist Toomey. Together they coordinated aid to the 23 candidates that the corporate-backed campaign had decided to support. “If they [TRMPAC] were doing something in a race, then the TAB effort could be expended elsewhere,” testified McDonald.

Toomey, who would go on to be the governor’s chief of staff after the election, was a TAB board member during the campaign. It may not surprise his adversaries—he is known in some quarters of the Capitol as “the Knife”—that Toomey had a role in hiring a private investigator to dig for dirt on Democratic candidates in 2002. The total amount paid for this service was $4,412.53, according to the Houston Chronicle. It is not clear whether or not TRMPAC paid for the service with corporate “soft” dollars as an “administrative” expense. Less than a week later, Colyandro also sent an e-mail advising the TRMPAC accountant, Russell Anderson, to cut a check to Toomey for $444 in corporate “soft” money for “office copies.”