- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

DALLAS — The District Attorney’s Office in Austin subpoenaed records last week from state House Speaker Tom Craddick and six other Republican lawmakers as part of an investigation into the suspected illegal handling of contributions by Mr. Craddick to obtain his leadership position.

Mr. Craddick reacted quickly, hiring Austin criminal defense lawyer Roy Minton and issuing a statement defending his role.

Craddick spokesman Bob Richter said the speaker distributed checks totaling $152,000 to 14 House Republican candidates in 2002 on behalf of Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee.

He said the speaker denied being anything other than a middleman for the group.

In a statement, Mr. Craddick said: “I am satisfied that I, and all other candidates for Speaker of the House of Representatives for the 78th Legislature, conducted our races appropriately and I am happy to have helped elect a Republican majority — as I have tried to do since I was first elected to the House in 1968.”

Travis County Assistant District Attorney Greg Cox, who heads the investigation, said there are specific state laws governing the conduct during the speaker election — provisions, for instance, that a candidate cannot give anything of value in exchange for a lawmaker’s vote.

Mr. Cox said he could not comment on specifics, but added: “With allegations this serious and this important, I think it’s our duty to at least look into it. I’m not saying a crime occurred.”

Mr. Minton said his client had not violated the legislative bribery statute because all he did was deliver checks to House candidates as a courtesy.

“He was not handing out anything that he had of value,” Mr. Minton said. “He was handing out checks that TRMPAC was giving to these guys who were running for office. TRMPAC is the person who is the donor. He was not donating anything.”

The investigation into corporate funding of the 2002 elections began a few months ago when the Texas Association of Business said its financial backing had helped Republicans take control of the Texas House — in 22 legislative races.

Texas law allows the covering of administrative costs by political organizations, but not “to influence elections.”

After examining the TAB claims, the Austin investigation scrutinized closely Texans for a Republican Majority — the group formed by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. About one-third of the $1.5 million raised by TRM came from corporations.

Mr. Craddick was one of five candidates for speaker in 2002. He distributed most of the checks in October. Several days after the November election, in which Republicans had obtained its first majority since Reconstruction, he announced he had enough votes to become speaker.

Republicans, thus entrenched, used this majority last summer and fall to pass the most controversial redistricting bill in Texas history — a move that is expected to result in several more Republicans elected to Congress this November.

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