- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

AUSTIN — House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said the grand-jury probe into illegal campaign spending by a handful of political organizations isn’t “about” him, despite the indictment of three men with close ties to the powerful Texas congressman.

Three top DeLay operatives and eight corporations were singled out Tuesday and charged with illegally funding several state Republican candidates in the November 2002 elections.

“The probe is not about me,” Mr. DeLay said.

State Republicans for months have complained that Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle — a liberal Democrat — has harbored a vendetta against Mr. DeLay and his highly successful political-action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), since that group played a leading role in a Republican victory of major proportions two years ago.

The 2002 elections swept scores of Republicans into state legislative office, capturing every statewide elective office and giving them legislative control of the state for the first time since Reconstruction.

A few months after grasping power, the Republican majority began efforts to redraw the state’s congressional districts — an effort personally guided by Mr. DeLay and one that caused a majority of Democrats in both the House and Senate to flee Texas rather than to admit defeat.

The result will be evident this November because several influential Democrats have been forced to run in Republican-heavy districts, in which political experts predict that the party will gain at least six congressional seats.

Indicted Tuesday on a single count of money laundering each were John Colyandro, former executive director of Texans for a Republican Majority, a group that plays the heaviest role in the Texas campaigns; and Jim Ellis, a former DeLay staff member who now directs Americans for a Republican Majority, Mr. DeLay’s national fund-raising political-action committee, also known as PACs. Mr. Colyandro also was charged with 13 counts of unlawful acceptance of a corporate political contribution.

Warren Robold, Mr. DeLay’s corporate fund-raiser in Washington, was indicted on nine counts of accepting and making illegal contributions.

There was no immediate indication as to whether the indictments would affect the complaint against Mr. DeLay now before the House ethics committee. Rep. Chris Bell, Texas Democrat, filed the complaint earlier this year, saying Mr. DeLay’s push for redistricting cost him his seat in Congress.

Mr. DeLay continually has denied that any of the contributions made through his PACs were illegal. He has strongly accused Mr. Earle of conducting a “witch hunt.”

“This has been an investigation that has been under way for nearly two years,” Mr. DeLay said Tuesday. “And 40 days before the election, they’ve suddenly taken action. You do the political math.”

Mr. Earle, a Democrat, said in an interview a few weeks ago that he knew he would be soundly criticized, no matter what his grand jury determined.

“I’ve heard it all before,” he said. “Republicans will say I am trying to help Democrats. All I can do is follow the law. They seem to forget that most of the politicians I have charged [in recent years] have been Democrats.”

He told the Austin, Texas, press corps earlier this week that the probe has taken so long because the Texas Association of Business — which still is under investigation for similar campaign accusations — has been fighting his office’s inquiry through a series of court motions for more than a year.

Texas law prohibits corporate or labor-union donations from being used to promote individual candidates. The Texas Ethics Committee has opined that corporate money can be used only for a political committee’s basic expenses, such as rent, travel and utilities.

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