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Texas Indictments Should Spur Inquiry Into Rep. DeLay’s Role in Possibly Illegal Fundraising Scheme

Sept. 21, 2004

Texas Indictments Should Spur Inquiry Into Rep. DeLay’s Role in Possibly Illegal Fundraising Scheme

House Ethics Panel Should Immediately Commence Inquiry

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In light of today’s felony indictments against three of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s top fund-raising lieutenants, the House ethics committee should immediately move forward with a formal inquiry into a complaint alleging that DeLay improperly solicited corporate campaign contributions, Public Citizen said.

Leaders of the House ethics panel have been deadlocked on whether to proceed with an investigation or dismiss the complaint filed by Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas) last June, the Washington Post reported today.

Travis County (Texas) District Attorney Ronnie Earle announced today that a grand jury had issued 32 indictments against some of DeLay’s fundraising operatives and a number of corporations that are alleged to have illegally funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into Texas state elections. Texas law expressly forbids the use of corporate money in state elections, other than to pay for administrative expenses of political committees. Corporate money may not be used to finance campaigns for or against state candidates.

In the 2002 elections, DeLay (R-Texas) and his leadership PAC – Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) – as well as the Republican Party of Texas launched a concerted effort to take over the Texas House of Representatives from Democrats. The effort paid off, leading to Republican control of the legislature for the first time since Reconstruction and the subsequent redistricting drive that created additional Republican congressional seats in the U.S. Congress.

“These indictments are based on evidence that Tom DeLay’s operatives used his position of power as majority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives to extract funds from corporate givers and funnel those funds into legislative races in Texas,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “Such illegal activity cannot be condoned. The ethics committee has no choice but to conduct an investigation into whether DeLay was personally involved.”

The indictments include felony counts against John Colyandro, the executive director of TRMPAC; Jim Ellis, a former DeLay staff member; and Warren RoBold, a DeLay fundraiser in Washington, D.C.

Also indicted were a number of corporations accused of making illegal campaign contributions. Those corporations include Westar Energy, a Kansas-based energy company that has been the subject of several ethics complaints filed by Public Citizen.

Internal company memos released last year described how Westar was “working on getting our grandfather provision on PUHCA [Public Utility Holding Company Act] repeal into … the energy bill,” adding that Westar had developed “a plan for participation to get a seat at the table . . . [which includes] $25,000 in soft money (corporate)” by contributing to “a group of candidates associated with Tom Delay.” Central to this scheme was having Westar contribute $25,000 to a PAC associated with DeLay. It is this contribution that led to the indictment against Westar. Public Citizen has called on the Department of Justice to investigate whether Westar and politicians that received money from company officers (DeLay and Rep. Joe Barton of Texas) violated federal anti-bribery statutes.

“These indictments are a good first step,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, “but more needs to be done. If Tom DeLay directed these corporate expenditures, he should be held accountable.”

A separate complaint filed against the Republican Party of Texas for similar violations of Texas state law is still under investigation by a Texas county attorney’s office. Public Citizen filed its complaint against the use of corporate money by the Republican Party of Texas with the Travis County Attorney’s office on April 30, 2004.