Public Citizen's website or Tom Delay on trial yesterday?

As the Tom Delay trial got underway, the State’s first two witnesses were Craig McDonald, a former Public Citizen Texas director and now the executive director for Texans for Public Justice, and Austin attorney Fred Lewis, both of whom the defense characterized as being from the left end of the political spectrum which they attempted to capitalize upon.  Twice the defense moved for a mistrial, claiming there was an effort by prosecutors to push political opinions on the jury.  Both motions were ignored by Judge Priest.

Craig McDonald said he focused solely on campaign donations while with Public Citizen and that there were discrepancies between what Texas Republican Majority PAC (TRMPAC) reported to the Texas Ethics Commission in terms of its income and what Republican National State Election Committee (RNSEC) reported to the IRS.

The defense, in examining McDonald, reviewed 60 candidate names on Public Citizen’s website — only one of which was a Democrat (gubernatorial candidate, Bill White, and that was from a blog on yours truly, Texas Vox, which showed up on the site through an RSS feed).  DeLay, however, was mentioned 100 or more times on the site. But McDonald maintained political neutrality in his testimony, noting that DeLay’s appearance on the website did not mean he was the only subject of Public Citizen’s research.

Fred Lewis, was the second witness the State called, and said he was “uncertain” where the $190,000 to TRMPAC came from when reading Texas Ethics Commission reports.

The defense attempted to label Lewis as a Democratic advocate, and his organization in 2002, the Center for Public Democracy, as a political machine and not a non-profit.

The State again referred to the TRMPAC donations as “money laundering.”  The defense said comparing money laundering and legally allowed political donations is “comparing apples to oranges.”

“Apples and oranges … I wouldn’t know how to rule on that,” Priest said, drawing some laughter.

The trial resumes this morning at 9 a.m. at the Travis County Justice Center, with a long list of lobbyists, activists and contributors having been subpoenaed to appear.

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