- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

DALLAS — Felony indictments against Texans for a Republican Majority, one of two organizations generally given credit for overwhelming Republican Party victories across Texas in 2002, were unsealed yesterday in Austin.

Several high-level Republicans closely involved with the group — including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Texas state House Speaker Tom Craddick — were not named.

Also indicted by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle’s grand jury was the Texas Association of Business (TAB).

The specific charge against TRMPAC said the group illegally accepted a $100,000 contribution from the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, a District-based group.

Four indictments against the TAB included charges of making unlawful contributions to a political committee, unlawful political advertising and illegal expenditures for advertising subcontracting costs, as well as contributions to specific Republican candidates.

The contributions to 21 Texas House candidates (about $1.7 million in corporate money) helped Republicans gain a majority in that body in 2002 and enabled Mr. Craddick to become the first Republican to head the Texas House in more than 100 years.

Mr. Craddick accepted a check for $100,000 from the nursing-home backers at a Houston restaurant just days before the 2002 election. Later subpoenaed by the grand jury in Austin, Mr. Craddick said he didn’t look at the check and didn’t know the amount, but only carried it to the political action committee.

Both he and Mr. DeLay, who organized TRMPAC, have denied any wrongdoing.

The charges against the TAB, though third-degree felonies, can result only in fines upon conviction. The maximum is $20,000 for each of the 128 specific counts.

There had been considerable speculation that the president of the TAB, Bill Hammond, might be indicted along with the organization, but that did not happen.

Two of the four indictments against the business organization had been finalized in August, but had been kept secret.

It was Mr. Hammond’s remarks shortly after that 2002 takeover by Republicans that caught Mr. Earle’s attention and caused him to begin the investigation. In a TAB newsletter, Mr. Hammond boasted that his organization “blew the doors” off the recent election by its “unprecedented show of muscle.”

Last fall, another Austin grand jury indicted three TRMPAC officials — consultants John Colyandro of Austin and Jim Ellis of the District and D.C. fundraiser Warren Robold. They are awaiting trial.

The Austin indictments — though not totally unexpected — seemed to possibly complicate the TAB’s defense in pending civil actions filed by some of the Democrat losers in 2002.

Some predict these indictments might be the last handed down via Mr. Earle’s lengthy investigation since he has less than two months for the probe to end itself. Under state law, prosecutors have only three years from the November election date in 2002 to pursue wrongdoing.

Calls for comment from Mr. Earle’s office were not immediately answered yesterday.

But he told the Dallas Morning News that his investigation was not over — that he still was looking to see whether Mr. DeLay or Mr. Craddick were involved in illegal influence or soliciting illegal contributions.

“Our investigation has unmasked the corporate donors, many of which are not even Texas companies,” Mr. Earle said. “The use of over $1 million in secret money in many local Texas races was improper, illegal and unprecedented.”

Republicans have vociferously claimed that Mr. Earle’s investigation is politically motivated.

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