Judge postpones decision on campaign indictmentsGOP defendants argue that election code is unconstitutional
By Laylan Copelin, Austin American-Statesman
Thursday, May 12, 2005
State District Judge Bob Perkins on Wednesday postponed a decision on whether two political consultants can be prosecuted on money-laundering charges arising from the 2002 legislative elections.
Lawyers for Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, consultants with Texans for a Republican Majority, asked the judge to set aside the indictments against them. They argued, among other things, that the election code is unconstitutional and that money-laundering is a cash-only proposition and doesn't apply to the $190,000 corporate check that is photocopied in the indictment.
They argued that it's unfair for their clients to face 99 years in prison if convicted of a crime based on a vague, confusing election code, especially in a case ripe with political overtones. Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, secured the indictments.
"We know that won't happen," San Antonio lawyer J.D. Pauerstein said about the prospect of Ellis facing a lengthy prison term. "But tell him that at three in the morning."
Perkins delayed his decision until June 27. His decision is expected to be appealed, and the issue would have to be resolved before any trial can begin.
Last fall, a Travis County grand jury indicted the consultants, accusing them of laundering $190,000 in corporate donations into campaign contributions to seven GOP House candidates. Colyandro also was charged with accepting illegal corporate donations. The political committee spent almost $600,000 in corporate money on polling, phone banks, consultants and fund-raisers.
State law forbids spending corporate money on campaign- ing, but the committee's officials claim their expenses were legal because they did not spend the money to "expressly advocate" the election or defeat of candidates. Prosecutors say the consultants are misstating the law, which they denied is unconstitutional.
As for money-laundering, Pauerstein said the Legislature used the word "cash" in the statute only because "criminals don't use checks."
Prosecutors said the indictment is based on the "proceeds" that corporations gave to Texans for a Republican Majority.
Perkins today will hold a hearing on whether the Texas Ethics Commission must turn over some records to Earle as part of his investigation.