Attorney: Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick intended money to go to Democrats
KAREN BROOKS / The Dallas Morning News
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
AUSTIN - When House Speaker Tom Craddick gave $250,000 of his own campaign money to a long-dormant political action committee in January, he intended for the money to be funneled into the campaigns of four Democrats who were facing criticism for supporting him, his attorney said Wednesday.
And it was after the speaker's daughter, Christi Craddick, an employee of the campaign, requested that the committee pass it on to them, attorney Roy Minton said.
The acknowledgement this week that the money was intended for those candidates was a reversal from what Mr. Minton said last month, when a campaign-watchdog group, Texans for Public Justice, filed a criminal complaint alleging Mr. Craddick was using the committee to covertly and illegally funnel money into the campaigns of Democratic candidates who support his speakership. Mr. Minton's initial comments came before several of those Democrats faced challengers in the March 4 primary.
Texans for Public Justice maintains that a candidate for speaker, including the current speaker seeking re-election, can't use his campaign funds to boost his bid for the top spot. The group's director, Craig McDonald, called Mr. Minton's acknowledgment "a significant development."
Mr. Minton said Mr. Craddick was actually trying to help out fellow incumbents and revive the political committee at the same time - neither of which, he says, is illegal.
In February, when Craddick officials directed all questions to Mr. Minton, the attorney said the speaker had no knowledge of where that money was going. On Wednesday, however, he said he spoke on Mr. Craddick's behalf "before I did any real looking into it. ... I didn't know that much about it."
He said he discovered soon after the Feb. 11 complaint that Ms. Craddick had sent a letter to the Texas Jobs and Opportunity Build a Secure Future PAC requesting that $50,000 be sent to four specific Democratic candidates. He and Ms. Craddick "sat down and told the whole story" to Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle last month, he said.
The complaint is under review. A spokesman for Mr. Earle told the Austin-American Statesman that the prosecutor is looking at the campaign activities of other speaker's candidates, including Reps. Jim Keffer and Delwin Jones, who have contributed to fellow House members' campaigns.
The strategy of going through the political committee had the added benefit, intentional or not, of keeping Mr. Craddick's name out of the campaign finance reports of those Democrats facing criticism for their support of a GOP speaker. In a Democratic primary, such a revelation probably would have hurt the three Democratic committee chairmen who received the money - Kino Flores of Palmview, Aaron Pena of Edinburgh and Kevin Bailey of Houston. Mr. Flores and Mr. Pena won their primaries, while Mr. Bailey lost.
The fourth intended recipient, Austin Democrat Dawnna Dukes, didn't take the money, as her challenger was hammering on her support of Mr. Craddick to question her Democratic credentials.
In the end, Ms. Dukes won without the money.