The indictments came less than 24 hours after the House ethics committee postponed a decision on a complaint against DeLay that includes allegations involving TRMPAC. The complaint, filed by Chris Bell, a Democratic lawmaker from Houston, alleges that DeLay was involved in the PAC's actions and decisions to the point that he is no less culpable than Ellis, Colyandro or RoBold.
The ethics committee, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, typically takes a wait-and-see posture when grand juries or law enforcement agencies pursue issues. That DeLay was not indicted, his supporters said, supports the argument that he has done nothing wrong. Public interest groups, however, called on the ethics panel to appoint an outside investigator. Some House Democrats say privately they would be surprised if the ethics committee took strong action against DeLay if a grand jury stops short of implicating him.
In Texas, an attorney for Colyandro also called the release of the indictment politically motivated and said that Colyandro sought advice from lawyers specializing in campaign finance law on how to raise and spend money from corporations. "So, clearly, he did not knowingly violate the law," Joe Turner said.
J.D. Pauerstein of San Antonio, an attorney for Ellis, said, "We are disappointed that the grand jury decided to find against Mr. Ellis on one count, and we are confident he will be exonerated."
RoBold's attorney in Austin, Wayne Meissner, did not return a phone call.
The businesses indicted were Sears, Roebuck and Co. of Illinois; Bacardi USA Inc. of Miami, a subsidiary of the Bermuda-based liquor producer; Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, a subsidiary of CBRL Group Inc. in Lebanon, Tenn., that operates restaurants and retail operations in 41 states; Westar Energy Inc., an electric utility company in Topeka, Kan.; Diversified Collection Services Inc., a debt collection company in San Leandro, Calif.; Williams Companies Inc., a natural gas company in Tulsa; the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care Corp., an umbrella organization of some of the nation's largest nursing home operators; and Questerra Corp. of Charlottesville, a subsidiary of MeadWestvaco Corp.
They allegedly made illegal corporate political contributions ranging from $20,000 to $100,000.
Staff writer Charles Babington and researcher Lucy Shackelford in Washington contributed to this report.