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Backgrounder: The DeLay/TRMPAC Indictments

October 8, 2005

The DeLay/TRMPAC (Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee) Indictments

The following information is provided in summary form to clarify the key legal issues that will ultimately decide the case, apart from the DeLay team’s media blitz and efforts to try the case in the court of public opinion. I hope you find the following basic legal information, timeline and talking points useful. – Don Kirk

THE LEGAL ISSUE: DeLay, TRMPAC Violated 100 Year-old Texas Law

The charges against Tom DeLay are simple. He has been indicted for conspiring with political allies to use corporate money on Texas campaigns and for laundering corporate funds for that purpose. The indictments charge that DeLay used the Republican National Committee to “launder” $190,000 in corporate money for use in seven Texas State House campaigns.

The use of corporate funds in Texas elections has been illegal for 100 years:

(a) A corporation or labor organization may not make a political contribution or political expenditure that is not authorized by this subchapter.
(b) A corporation or labor organization may not make a political contribution or political expenditure in connection with a recall election, including the circulation and submission of a petition to call an election.
(c) A person who violates this section commits an offense. An offense under this section is a felony of the third degree. Amended by Acts 1987, 70th Leg., ch. 899, § 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1987.

A Texas Judge Has Already Ruled TRMPAC Violated State Election Law

On May 26, 2005, in a related Civil suit filed by 2002 Democratic candidates against TRMPAC officials, visiting District Judge Joe Hart, who was approved by the TRMPAC defendants, ruled that TRMPAC’s use of corporate funds in elections violated the Texas Election Code.

How Delay and TRMPAC Operatives Violated the Law

Most of the commentary about the indictment of Tom DeLay has centered on the money-laundering “round trip” of $190,000 to the Republican National Committee and back to Texas Republican House Campaigns. However, as noted Texas Election Law attorney Buck Wood observed in the Harvey Kronberg's Quorum Report, the long distance money laundering exercise misses the specific violation of Texas election law that relates to the alleged criminal activity in the indictment: the use of corporate dollars used for non-administrative purposes.

In Texas, corporations may not contribute to political action committees for anything other than administrative expenses, which are generally defined as typical business expenses like rent, bookkeeping, utilities, and administrative personnel. The corporate dollars noted in the indictment were sent to the Republican National Committee, which is not an "administrative expense." In addition, section 253.104 of the Election Code prohibits the solicitation of corporate dollars and contributing corporate dollars to a political party (the Republican National Committee, e.g.) within 60 days of a general election.

TIMELINE: Activities that Led to TRMPAC and DeLay Indictments

Last month, TRMPAC, TAB and several companies that supplied corporate funds for the campaign were issued five indictments, totaling 128 counts, prior to the indictment of Tom Delay. The indicted corporations include State Farm Insurance, AT&T, Union Pacific Railroad and the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home. The indictments assert that these groups conspired to funnel millions of dollars in corporate funds into the 2002 state elections. The TAB program involved many more Texas House candidates than the seven who received contributions through the TRMPAC-DeLay money laundering scheme.

* September 10, 2002 – TRMPAC Executive Director John Colyandro ordered a blank check sent to Jim Ellis, a consultant to the committee who is generally regarded as DeLay’s top political adviser and operative.

* September 13, 2002 – Ellis gave Terry Nelson, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the RNC, a $190,000 corporate check from TRMPAC, along with a list of Texas House candidates and suggested contributions the RNC should make to them.

* October 4, 2002 – An arm of the Republican National Committee contributed 190,000 in non-corporate contributions to seven Republican House candidates, including $20,000 to Dwayne Bohac, Dan Flynn, Larry Taylor, and Rick Green, $35,000 to Jack Stick and Todd Baxter; and $40,000 to Glenda Dawson.

* October 21, 2002 - The chief executive of Mariner Health Care, Chris Winkle, has dinner at an upscale Houston restaurant with state Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland), the man Republicans later elected Speaker of the Texas House. At the dinner, Winkle gave Craddick a $100,000 corporate check made out to TRMPAC on behalf of the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care. Speaker Craddick has not yet been charged by the grand jury.

* October 24, 2002 - Alliance contributed another $300,000 in corporate funds to TAB election efforts, according to the recently released indictments.

* May 26, 2005 – In a related Civil suit filed by 2002 Democratic candidates against TRMPAC officials, visiting District Judge Joe Hart, who was approved by the TRMPAC defendants, ruled that TRMPAC’s use of corporate funds in elections violated the Texas Election Code.

* September 8, 2005 – A Travis County Grand Jury handed down five indictments - totaling 128 counts - for conspiring to funnel millions of dollars in corporate funds into the 2002 state elections. The grand jury indicted TRMPAC and TAB, TRMPAC’s leaders, and several companies that supplied corporate funds for the campaign, including State Farm Insurance, AT&T, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care.

* September 28, 2005 – A Travis County Grand Jury handed down an indictment against Tom DeLay and two political associates, Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, for conspiracy in the campaign finance scheme to illegally funnel TRMPAC corporate funds into Texas House races in 2002.

* October 3, 2005 - A new Travis County grand jury indicted Tom DeLay on two new charges of money laundering in relation with the same corporate contribution scheme.

TALKING POINTS about the Tom DeLay Indictments

* A grand jury of ordinary citizens – not District Attorney Ronnie Earle - returned the indictments against Tom DeLay.

* Grand Jury foreman William Gibson, a retired Sheriff’s deputy, said they were not pressured by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle to indict Delay. "Mr. Earle has stacks and stacks of papers - evidence of telephone calls from Mr. DeLay and everybody." (Dallas Morning News, 10-1-05).

* TRMPAC and DeLay actions were not “business as usual.” The DeLay PR team has falsely attempted to portray TRMPAC activities as something done all the time by party committees. TRMPAC was not a political party committee. “Everybody else does it” is not a defense – and everybody else doesn’t do it.

* Instead of attacking his accusers and resorting to legal technicalities, Tom DeLay should disclose any evidence that would clear him and end the partisan war of words. DeLay’s finger pointing creates harmful partisan divisiveness at a time when Texas officeholders face many critical issues that require bipartisan attention, such as school finance. If the information DeLay submitted to the Travis County Grand Jury makes his innocence apparent, as he claims, he should immediately release it to the public and end the partisan rancor.

* Ethics controversy is no stranger to Tom Delay. For years, DeLay has thrown his weight around in the face of charges of impropriety and abuse of power. Tom DeLay has been investigated and admonished five times, including the findings of his own House Ethics Committee, and DeLay associates face indictment and investigation in Washington and Austin related to this and other matters.

* DeLay has a pattern of avoiding opportunities to answer questions in legal forums. DeLay turned down an invitation to appear before the Travis County Grand Jury that indicted him. In late 2003, DeLay aggressively quashed a subpoena that sought his deposition under oath to explain his actions during the Texas redistricting fiasco. Following the House Ethics Committee's decision to pursue complaints that DeLay violated House rules, DeLay said he would appear before the Ethics Committee to explain his position, but he has yet to appear before the Committee.

* The investigation into TRMPAC, TAB and related activities is not closed. The Grand Jury that indicted the Texas Association of Business, TRMPAC, Tom DeLay and TRMPAC operatives Jim Ellis and John Colyandro returned no indictments against any Members of the Texas House; however, the District Attorney indicated that the investigation is still ongoing.

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