Campaign donations in the wink of an eye
By The Editorial Board | Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Travis County prosecutors are right to examine whether House Speaker Tom Craddick tried to boost his return as leader of the Texas House by channeling tens of thousands of dollars to fellow lawmakers who have supported him over the years. If Craddick did that, he has violated state law that forbids a person, including a speaker, from making contributions “to aid or defeat a speaker candidate.” The outcome of the probe might well determine whether moneyed interests can easily subvert the law by using a third party.
Craddick’s attorney, Roy Minton of Austin, says that Craddick did not break state law nor try to influence his bid to be re-elected speaker. Craddick, Minton says, simply donated money to a political committee, which, without Craddick’s direction, donated to three Democrats loyal to Craddick during the last session. That loyalty has cost those Democrats within their own party. Each has a contested primary race.
Craddick cannot afford to lose any potential votes from either party for his own speaker’s race. The Midland Republican has held onto his thin margin of support - if that still exists - by abusing House rules. In the last session, he weathered a near mutiny led mostly by GOP House members.
Minton is asking the public to believe a bizarre coincidence and dismiss what seems the most logical explanation - that Craddick is using his war chest to keep his supporters in power so they in turn keep him in power.
In Tuesday’s editions, American-Statesman writer Laylan Copelin reported that on Jan. 10, Craddick revitalized an almost dormant political committee, Texans for Jobs & Opportunity Build a Secure Future, with a $250,000 donation. The next day, Texans for Jobs & Opportunity donated $50,000 each to Democratic Reps. Aaron Pena of Edinburg, Kino Flores of Palmview and Kevin Bailey of Houston. Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, wisely turned down a $50,000 contribution from the same PAC.
Minton said Craddick’s donation to the political committee and the PAC’s subsequent contributions to Democrats were unrelated. So reasonable people are being asked to believe that Craddick did not know where his money was going when he donated $250,000 from his campaign account to the political committee.
Pena, Flores and Bailey said they didn’t solicit the money and were not familiar with the PAC that gave them their largest contributions. Pena said his $50,000 check just showed up in the mail one day. How nice. Pena said he isn’t returning the money, either: “It’s spent.”
The matter has ended up before Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle because Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint accusing the PAC and Craddick of violating state law.
Austin attorney Buck Wood was as a lobbyist for Common Cause years ago when he helped draft the state law in question. He told the American-Statesman on Tuesday: “It was passed to prevent exactly what is happening - through either the lobby or the speaker amassing large campaign funds and using them to influence his election by giving out large sums.”
The law won’t be worth much if it turns out that Craddick or anyone else can so easily subvert it by using a third party to do his bidding.