Group accuses Craddick of using campaign funds to boost speaker bidAttorney denies he donated to PAC to aid bid to remain speaker
By KAREN BROOKS / The Dallas Morning News
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
AUSTIN – A campaign-finance watchdog group is accusing House Speaker Tom Craddick of illegally using his campaign funds to help the campaigns of House members who will support his re-election bid for speaker.
A complaint filed by Texans for Public Justice with the Travis County district attorney's office alleges that Mr. Craddick revived the long-dormant Texas JOBS political action committee for the express purpose of trying to hold onto his leadership position – in violation of ethics codes prohibiting campaign funds to be spent on a speaker's race.
The committee, which has been dormant since summer 2006, got its first new contribution Jan. 10, $250,000 from Mr. Craddick.
One day later, the committee gave $50,000 each to Democratic Reps. Kevin Bailey of Houston, Aaron Pena of Edinburgh and Kino Flores of Palmview. All three Democrats are House committee chairmen who supported Mr. Craddick in his tight race for speaker last year, and all three face primary contenders who are basing their campaigns, in part, on the incumbents' support of the Midland Republican.
"Texas law is clear: You can't buy the speaker's gavel by bankrolling the campaigns of House candidates," said Craig McDonald, Texans for Public Justice director.
Roy Minton, an Austin attorney representing Mr. Craddick, said he didn't know how the speaker came to donate money to the political committee but said he wasn't given any information about where the money would be spent.
"There was not any agreement at any time as to where that money was going to go," Mr. Minton said. "When the money was given to Texas JOBS, it was given for them to use at their own discretion."
After the contributions to the Democrats, the PAC amassed another $80,000 in new donations, including $25,000 each from longtime GOP givers James Mansour, director of Grande Communications; Houston homebuilder Bob Perry; and Houston real estate developer Michael Stevens.
Rudy Magallanes, spokesman for Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, said the office's public-integrity unit was reviewing the case and seeking additional information. He declined to comment further.
During a contentious battle for the speakership against fellow Republican Jim Pitts in January 2007, Mr. Craddick narrowly hung onto his position and had to fend off further attempts to remove him.
More than a dozen Democrats crossed party lines to help him, and several are facing tough primary fights.
Mr. Craddick's Stars Over Texas PAC is typically the recipient for his contributions, if he's not donating to candidates directly. But the stated mission of that PAC is to help Republican incumbents.