AUSTIN, Texas | The ex-treasurer of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s political action committee told jurors Tuesday there was nothing wrong with the PAC collecting corporate money, as long as it didn’t go to candidates.
Prosecutors contend that the former House majority leader used his PAC to illegally funnel $190,000 in corporate donations into Texas legislative races eight years ago.
Mr. DeLay, who was spending Election Day in court, is charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He has denied any wrongdoing. If convicted, Mr. Delay could face up to life in prison.
George “Bill” Ceverha, the ex-treasurer of Mr. DeLay’s Texas-based PAC, testified about the inner workings of the PAC and the money the group collected, saying corporate funds had been gathered to pay for the PAC’s administrative costs and not for candidates.
“At any time did you or any others ever intend to do something the law prohibited?” defense attorney Dick DeGuerin asked.
“No,” responded Mr. Ceverha, a former state lawmaker who said his role as the PAC’s treasurer was largely ceremonial.
Prosecutors have accused Mr. DeLay and two associates — Jim Ellis and John Colyandro — of illegally channeling the corporate money, which had been collected by Mr. DeLay’s PAC, through the Washington-based Republican National Committee. Under Texas law, corporate money cannot be directly used for political campaigns.
The money helped Republicans in 2002 take control of the Texas House. That majority allowed Republicans to push through a congressional redistricting plan engineered by Mr. DeLay that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004, prosecutors said.
Representatives from two political watchdogs have already testified that they filed complaints with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office seeking an investigation into Mr. DeLay’s PAC for allegedly using corporate money for political candidates.
Mr. DeLay’s attorneys have said the charges are politically motivated by former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who brought the original case but has since retired. Mr. Earle is a Democrat. Prosecutors deny the charges are politically motivated.
His defense team also worried about the trial being held in Austin — the most Democratic city in one of the most Republican states — and its timing, with testimony beginning a day before Tuesday’s midterm elections. Mr. DeLay has been pressing for a trial since he was indicted five years ago, but the case was slowed by appeals of pretrial rulings.
Mr. DeLay was once one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress, but the criminal charges in Texas, as well as a separate federal investigation of his ties to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, ended his 22-year political career representing suburban Houston.
The Justice Department has since ended its federal investigation into Mr. DeLay’s ties to Abramoff without filing any charges against Mr. DeLay. Mr. Ellis and Mr. Colyandro, who face lesser charges, will be tried later.