Texas high court tells TAB to give up donor informationBy BRANDI GRISSOM, Associated Press
June 10, 2005
The Texas Association of Business, accused of illegally soliciting and using $1.9 million of corporate money in 2002 statehouse elections, must give their accusers information about the donations, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday.
Those alleging wrongdoing are some 2002 Democratic candidates who lost their races. The TAB must give the candidates' attorneys a list of how many businesses donated to the group and how much each donated.
"It means everything for the future of the case," said attorney Buck Wood, adding the information will be used to investigate which companies donated money to TAB and how that money was used.
Democrats contend the association, along with Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee, worked together to funnel corporate money into Texas House races in 2002. Attorneys for TAB and TRMPAC argue the money the groups raised was used legally.
The business association spent money on millions of mailers it sent to voters. Andy Taylor, attorney for the association, argued the mailers were only meant to educate voters about issues, not urge them to vote for any particular candidate.
Texas law prohibits the use of corporate money in political campaigns. It can be used only for administrative purposes, such as office overhead, by a political committee.
Bill Hammond, the association president, once boasted that the nearly $2 million his group raised supported Republican candidates in 2002 legislative campaigns.
"The public information program that TAB produced in 2002 is 100 percent legal, and the court's ruling does not change that fact," Taylor said.
A judge ordered the association a year-and-a-half ago to give up the donor information. Taylor said he appealed the decision because he worried doing so would reveal the names of business donors.
"We enjoy the right to band together and criticize governmental and elected officials without fear of retribution or prosecution," Taylor said.
Attorneys for the Democrats hope the information will help them unravel what they believe was a conspiracy between TAB and TRMPAC in 2002 to elect a majority of Republicans in the Texas House who would then elect Midland Republican Tom Craddick to lead the chamber. Craddick then supported a plan by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, the redraw Texas congressional districts to send a majority of Republicans to Washington for the first time in modern history.
"We know they worked together, so every bit of information is going to be useful," said Cris Feldman, an attorney for Democrats suing TRMPAC. A judge in that case ruled in May that contributions and expenditures by the political action committee should have been reported to the Texas Ethics Commission. That ruling meant that Bill Ceverha, treasurer of TRMPAC, will have to pay $196,660 in damages.
Wood said the Democrat candidates he represents could get at least double the $1.9 million the association spent if a court rules in their favor.