AUSTIN, Sept. 21 -- Three top political aides to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) were indicted Tuesday on charges of illegally raising political funds from corporations in 2002, much of which was funneled into the Republican takeover of the Texas legislature.
Corporate contributions to state legislative candidates are illegal in Texas. A Travis County grand jury indicted DeLay political aide Jim Ellis, fundraiser Warren RoBold and John Colyandro, the executive director of DeLay's political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, known as TRMPAC. Eight corporations also were indicted for illegal political contributions.
The grand jury never questioned DeLay or sought records from him. But the panel's actions could rattle his supporters and embolden his critics because the three men indicted include some of his closest and most loyal allies. Moreover, the targeted fundraising activities were at the heart of one of DeLay's most cherished, high-profile endeavors of the past several years: giving Republicans control of the Texas legislature so the state's 32 U.S. House districts could be redrawn in a way likely to send more Republicans to Congress.
That is what the legislature did last year, and DeLay has often cited the redistricting effort as a key reason he expects the Nov. 2 election to expand the GOP House majority.
Ellis, 47, of Arlington, Va., and Colyandro, 40, of Austin, were indicted on one count each of money laundering -- specifically taking $190,000 in corporate money raised by TRMPAC and giving it to the Republican National Committee, which, in turn, had the Republican National State Elections Committee contribute to seven Texas House candidates. In all, about 20 Republican candidates were helped by TRMPAC activities to win Texas House seats.
Colyandro was indicted on 13 counts of unlawfully accepting $425,000 in corporate political contributions. RoBold, 48, of Middletown was indicted on nine counts of unlawfully soliciting and accepting $250,000 in corporate political contributions.
The indictments follow a 21-month investigation by three different grand juries into the activities of TRMPAC. The result of that inquiry, said Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, was an "outline of an effort to use corporate contributions to control representative democracy in Texas."
Since 1905, Texas law has prohibited the giving or receiving of political contributions from corporations and labor unions to candidates.
At a news conference, Earle, a Democrat, said that although the three-month term of the latest grand jury expires Sept. 30, the investigation has not ended. "This is a continuing investigation into allegations of criminal activity related to the 2002 Texas elections," he said.
Those elections resulted in the Republican takeover of the Texas House for the first time since Reconstruction. With the legislature dominated by the GOP, Republican Tom Craddick of Midland was elected Texas House speaker last year and the Texas congressional districts were then redrawn to send more Republican lawmakers to Congress, strengthening DeLay's base as majority leader. The Washington Post has previously reported that Craddick's role in disbursing money to candidates from TRMPAC was being scrutinized by the grand jury, but he has not been charged and he was not named in Tuesday's indictment.
DeLay was not named as a target of the grand jury's investigation, but documents disclosed in the inquiry indicate that DeLay was central to creating and overseeing the political fundraising in Texas. When asked whether the continuing probe could lead to allegations of wrongdoing against DeLay, Earle said: "My response has been consistent, in that anyone who has committed a crime is a target."
In Washington, DeLay said the legal case in Texas would not affect him.
"This has been an investigation that has been underway for nearly two years, and 40 days before the election, suddenly they've taken action," DeLay said in a statement issued by his office. "You do the political math."
"I'll reiterate what I've said before and today's action emphasizes: I have not been subpoenaed; I have not been asked to testify; and I have not been called as a witness. They've made clear this investigation is not about me."