Attorney: Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick intended money to go to Democrats
KAREN BROOKS / The Dallas Morning News
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
A lawyer for Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick reversed himself Tuesday, saying the Midland Republican specified that he wanted his $250,000 donation to a political committee to go to several House Democrats who supported him.
When Travis County prosecutors began investigating the donations last month, Austin lawyer Roy Minton denied that Craddick had directed how the donation to the committee, Texas Jobs & Opportunity Build a Secure Future, should be spent.
On Tuesday, Minton said Christi Craddick, the speaker's daughter, who runs his political operation, wrote the Texas Jobs committee a letter in January asking it to give $50,000 each to four Democratic incumbents who had opponents in the March 4 primaries.
"Of course, they were happy to do it," Minton said. "Tom knew everything that was going on."
Minton said that his remarks last month were his mistake and that he had turned Christi Craddick's letter over to prosecutors as part of a package of records that had been subpoenaed.
Texans for Public Justice, a group that advocates campaign spending limits, says Craddick is illegally trying to boost his bid for re-election as speaker next year.
The group filed a criminal complaint, claiming, among other things, that Craddick was trying to make a donation under the committee's name instead of his own. Though state law, the so-called speaker's statute, prohibits "any person" from aiding or defeating a speaker campaign with donations from their political accounts, Minton on Tuesday says Craddick's contributions were legal. He said it's common for one incumbent to help another.
Indeed, several of Craddick's opponents in the House were giving money to their colleagues during the weeks leading up to the March 4 primaries, even as prosecutors were reviewing the complaint against Craddick.
Two speaker candidates, Reps. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, and Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, for example, gave from $1,000 to $10,000 to House candidates including El Paso Rep. Pat Haggerty, a Republican who opposes Craddick's re-election as speaker. Haggerty lost to another Republican on March 4.
"When I see someone struggling, I try to help them," Jones said. "I didn't think about it being connected to the speaker's race. It was just a West Texas thing."
Keffer said, "It's been the practice of incumbents giving incumbents help. My attitude is, they are members in tough races."
Other House members who oppose Craddick also made donations from their campaign accounts.
Keffer said he didn't complain about Craddick's donations but thought they might be different because they were sent through the political committee, not directly from Craddick's campaign so voters could easily see the connection.
He said some Republicans might be surprised to see Craddick's support for Democrats: "The rank and file must be scratching their heads."
For the past 15 months, Craddick has been in a battle to remain speaker. Twice during the last legislative session he quelled a rebellion by critics who claim he is too controlling. The speaker's statute, which governs how speakers are elected, tries to restrict outside influence on the 150 House members who elect their leader at the start of each session. A violation is a Class A misdemeanor, which brings a $4,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
Craddick's opponents expect to make a third run at the speaker's job in January after newly elected members are sworn in.
If the speaker was trying to hide his money to Democrats, he didn't do it very well: He gave the $250,000 to the committee one day, and the next day the committee cut checks to the candidates. He chipped in another $50,000 two weeks after Travis County prosecutors began reviewing his donations.
Craddick's defenders say that the speaker is subject to a double standard: He's being investigated by the district attorney while his opponents aren't, and news about the investigation is being used in the re-election campaigns against Craddick's supporters.
Texans for Public Justice denies that it was trying to affect the speaker's race and said any allegations should be investigated.
But the group's director, Craig McDonald, said a speaker should not be allowed to direct campaign donations to reinforce his hold on the gavel.
"It's not Craddick's money," he said. "It's money he raised from special interests who want something from him."
Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle said he planned a complete review.
"We're looking at the facts regarding Tom Craddick," Earle said Tuesday. "We'll also review the conduct of other candidates to determine if any of it warrants an investigation."
Austin lawyer Buck Wood said the speaker's statute, which he helped write in the 1970s, is being misconstrued in some quarters.
He said the law doesn't prohibit a lawmaker — even a speaker candidate — from donating to a colleague's campaign. But he said a jury would have to weigh the facts of each case to determine whether the donations were intended to aid or defeat a speaker's candidate.
He said it would be difficult to convince a jury that a member giving $1,000 was influencing the speaker's election.
In Craddick's instance, Wood said, "It's the totality of the circumstances."
The Texas Jobs political committee had been mostly dormant throughout 2007 before it was renamed and revitalized this winter with the $250,000 from Craddick's campaign account. The size of the donations, plus whether Craddick directed where the money should go, also would be considered, Wood said.
Minton disagreed with Wood, saying there is no prohibition in the law against a donor asking a committee to send the money to a certain candidate.
"He's letting his liberal politics get in the way of what the law is," Minton said.