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Texas Judge Fines DeLay’s PAC Treasurer Nearly $200,000

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A Texas judge ruled that Tom Delay’s Texas political committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, violated Texas campaign law when it failed to disclose more than half a million dollars in corporate campaign contributions during the 2002 state legislative elections. We speak with the executive director of Texans for Public Justice. [includes rush transcript]

Yesterday, Texas Travis County District Judge, Joseph Hart ruled that Tom Delay’s Texas political committee, Texans for a Republican Majority known as TRMPAC- violated Texas campaign law when it failed to disclose more than half a million dollars in corporate campaign contributions during the 2002 state legislative elections. Judge Hart awarded $196,000 to the five democratic candidates who lost in 2002. Delay aides who worked for TRMPAC still face multiple criminal indictments and a grand jury investigation into TRMPAC is ongoing.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: On the phone from Texas with us is Craig McDonald. He’s the Executive Director of Texans for Public Justice. His organization filed the original criminal complaint against TRMPAC’s 2002 fundraising activities. Welcome to Democracy Now!

CRAIG McDONALD: Good to be here.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, your reaction to this latest development.

CRAIG McDONALD: Our reaction is we’re very pleased. We’ve been hoping for some accountability in this whole 2002 election matter. We think this is the first step. This is the first of what will likely be many court rulings, and we think most of all these court rulings will also go against TRMPAC and its employees, associates and perhaps one day even reach up to Tom DeLay.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain exactly what were the circumstances in this case, Craig?

CRAIG McDONALD: Yeah. The circumstances of this case is that TRMPAC, during the 2002 election cycle, raised about $1.5 million. About a half a million dollars of that came from corporate sources and under Texas Law, just like under Federal Law, corporate donations cannot be used to campaign with. While TRMPAC kept this $600,000 in corporate contributions off the books, if you will, did not report it to the Texas regulatory authorities. The public didn’t see it. Our organization didn’t see it until after the election. And they used that money to carry out their political activities. They used it for polling, they used it for message development, candidate recruitment, all of those things that a political committee does on behalf of a slate of republican House candidates. It didn’t come to light until after the elections. TRMPAC was subsequently sued by five of the losing democratic candidates, who lost because they were targeted by TRMPAC candidates.

So, about the same time that the Austin district attorney opened a criminal investigation into TRMPAC’s activities, five candidates filed a civil action against TRMPAC for raising and spending illegal corporate money and for not disclosing that money. Yesterday’s ruling really only answered half of the case. Yesterday’s ruling was a very strong ruling, but it only ruled on the disclosure aspect of the case. It said that TRMPAC should have disclosed the $600,000 in corporate money, and that its treasurer, Bill Ceverha was liable for not disclosing it, and it ordered Ceverha to pay $200,000 to those five candidates. So the judge really didn’t rule on whether or not Jim Ellis, John Colyrando, Bill Ceverha, or any other TRMPAC employees illegally conspired to raise and spend corporate money. He is saving that until after the criminal charges have been handled. But it was very important before he could rule that they misreported the money, he had to rule that the $600,000 was indeed illegal funds, not used for administrative purposes but money that was used for TRMPAC’s political purposes. And that’s really the key to the ruling, because that point is key to the criminal investigations, and it’s also key to other ongoing civil suits in this matter.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in the process of those proceedings, were there any ties made clear between DeLay and Ceverha in terms of knowledge of what was going on?

CRAIG McDONALD: Well, there was some indications. There were certainly indications that TRMPAC had coordinated its efforts with the Texas Association of Business, which also spent — which spent about $200 million on so-called issue ads. They were operating, if you will, as one political unit. Tom DeLay was brought in a little bit, but since he wasn’t a named plaintiff here and since Tom DeLay’s key aides, Ellis and Colyrando had been named plaintiffs but they were taken off because of their pending criminal charges, that we didn’t see too much of Tom DeLay. However, throughout there’s no mistake that Tom DeLay was involved in TRMPAC intimately. So, this is bad news for Tom DeLay. It’s also bad news for Texas Speaker of the House, Tom Craddick, who was intimately involved in TRMPAC. DeLay’s name certainly did come up time and again as being head of the advisory committee, as being the individual who claims to have started TRMPAC. TRMPAC was his idea, and that Tom DeLay attended a great number of fundraisers for TRMPAC where corporate money was solicited and accepted.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, Texans for a Republican Majority is the name that TRMPAC is an acronym for.

CRAIG McDONALD: Texans for a Republican Majority.

AMY GOODMAN: MoveOn has just launched a series of radio ads around the country to call on people to descend on the offices of republican Congress members with petitions to fire Tom DeLay as the House Majority Leader. What kind of response does he get in Texas where you are at Texans For Public Justice?

CRAIG McDONALD: Well, certainly the polling shows that his popularity in his own district seems to be dwindling because of these ongoing scandals. I think it’s pretty polarized in the state. One thing this ruling did was it left strangely silent the head of the Texas Republican Party, who had been strong defenders of Tom Delay and TRMPAC. They didn’t have comment yesterday. They have always maintained that TRMPAC’s central activity, that is raising the corporate money, was a legal activity. So this ruling really puts a big hole in TRMPAC’s rhetorical defense and their political defense and in Tom DeLay’s even legal defense, if he should be named as a defendant in the civil suits or indicted as many think he might be by Ronnie Earle in the weeks or months ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: Craig McDonald, I want to thank you for being with us, head of Texans for Public Justice.

CRAIG McDONALD: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much.

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