Grand jury in Texas indicts committee connected to House Majority leader DeLay

Friday, September 9th 2005, 7:36 am
By: News On 6

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) A political organization formed by House Majority leader Tom DeLay and a prominent Texas business group face charges of taking illegal corporate money during the 2002 legislative campaigns.

DeLay, R-Texas, was not indicted by a Travis County grand jury in the charges made public Thursday, although three of his political associates were charged earlier. District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, said he had no jurisdiction over DeLay's personal conduct.

DeLay helped Republicans win control of the Texas Legislature and keep Congress in GOP hands in 2002.

District Attorney Ronnie Earle said the five felony indictments against the two groups show a misuse of corporate money to ``influence Texas elections in 2002.''

The indictment alleges the two groups Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee and the Texas Association of Business worked together to circumvent the election code and funnel ``massive amounts of secret corporate wealth'' into campaigns, Earle said.

State law prohibits use of corporate contributions to advocate election or defeat of state candidates.

If convicted, the two groups named in the indictments could face fines of up to $20,000 for each count. The indictments names 128 counts against TAB.

Once DeLay helped Republicans win control of the state Legislature in 2002, the majority leader engineered a Republican redistricting plan that gave the state's U.S. House delegation a 21-11 majority in the current Congress. The effort helped Republicans increase their House margin by five seats this year.

Kevin Madden, DeLay's spokesman, said the majority leader only played a limited role in the political organization. He served on its advisory board and appeared at fundraising events, Madden said.

The indictment also did not charge individuals in the Texas Association of Business with violating state law.

A complaint filed last year with the House ethics committee alleged that DeLay's activities with TRMPAC violated House rules, but the panel deferred action and has done nothing since.

The charge against Texans for a Republican Majority alleges the committee illegally accepted a political contribution of $100,000 from the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care and $20,000 from AT&T.

Four indictments against the Texas Association of Business include charges of unlawful political advertising, unlawful contributions to a political committee and unlawful expenditures such as those to a graphics company and political candidates.

The statewide business group, which is influential at the Texas Capitol, spent about $1.7 million in corporate money for mailings in 2002. The group said it was trying to educate voters on issues, which is legal, not advocate the election or defeat of any candidates.

TAB attorney Roy Minton said the group acted under protections of the First Amendment, which ``gives individuals and their businesses the absolute right to inform the public of the conduct of our elected officials and the conduct of candidates for public office.''

The grand jury last fall indicted three officials with Texans for a Republican Majority. John Colyandro of Austin and Jim Ellis of Washington, D.C., each were accused of one count of money laundering. Colyandro also faces 13 counts of unlawful acceptance of a corporate political contribution.

Washington fundraiser Warren Robold was indicted on charges of accepting or making corporate donations.

All are now awaiting trial.