DeLay's Corporate Fundraising Investigated
TRMPAC never incurred much in the way of expenses such as rent, utilities and supplies -- of the sort that the Ethics Commission says corporations are allowed to finance. "For all functional purposes," Colyandro said in his court deposition, it was run from the home office of its treasurer. Colyandro did not remember leasing any office space or paying a utility bill.
Colyandro set up a multi-tiered membership program for corporate donors: $100,000 bought a "private dinner" with board members such as DeLay, and $50,000 guaranteed a "special dinner" including two other contributors. But even smaller sums brought access: Jack Dillard, a Philip Morris official, sent $10,000 to TRMPAC in July 22, 2002, and in a letter expressed thanks "for the invitation to meet Congressman DeLay in Austin next week."
Some corporations were careful to specify that their contributions were solely meant to defray legally permissible administrative expenses. TRMPAC solicitations being investigated did not mention the restrictions. For example, DeLay was the featured "special guest" at a fundraising luncheon for TRMPAC at the Houston Petroleum Club, where donors were asked to contribute $15,000 to be considered a co-chair and $25,000 to be listed as an underwriter.
"Corporate checks are acceptable," the invitation stated, according to a copy obtained by The Post.
TRMPAC's appeals worked. More than $254,000, out of a total of $600,000, was collected from 14 corporations between the middle of May and early September in 2002. Only two were headquartered in Texas -- a beer distributor and a builder of prisons; the others were mostly firms with regulatory or policy interests in both Washington and Texas.
For example, Westar Energy, which in 2002 sought a federal tax break, gave $25,000 to win "a seat at the table" during congressional deliberations about the provision, even though it had no business in Texas, according to an internal company e-mail that surfaced in a criminal probe. Its executives joined DeLay -- and top officials from other TRMPAC contributors -- at a golf resort in Puerto Rico owned by a TRMPAC contributor that year. DeLay supported the tax break Westar wanted.
Two other internal documents point to heavy involvement by DeLay in TRMPAC's activities. State Rep. Dianne White Delisi, a TRMPAC board member, told oilman T. Boone Pickens in a letter before the 2002 election that "House Majority Whip Tom DeLay agreed to help us and has been an ardent advocate for us by raising money, making phone calls, serving as a special guest at events, and providing assistance with leading strategists," according to a copy. Pickens's company subsequently donated $5,000, and Pickens sent a personal check for $50,000.
A TRMPAC fundraiser also told members of its "finance" board around the same period that DeLay would participate in a conference call "to update everyone on TRMPAC's efforts to date and to discuss our strategy." Roy said DeLay appears to have participated in the call, adding that Delisi's letter accurately summarized DeLay's overall involvement.
Besides spending the corporate money it collected to benefit targeted candidates in 2002 -- through polls, fundraising events, voter identification efforts and investigations of Democratic opponents -- TRMPAC also sent corporate money to the Republican Party in Washington, starting a chain of events under review by prosecutors.
It worked like this: On Sept. 10, TRMPAC's director told its accountant that "a blank soft-dollar check" made out to the Republican National State Elections Committee should be sent overnight to Ellis, the ARMPAC director, at his headquarters in Washington, according to a copy of the director's e-mail. "Soft dollars" was a reference to corporate money. Ellis inscribed $190,000 on the check.
The national committee, in turn, sent the same total amount in seven checks ranging from $20,000 to $40,000 to Texas House candidates on Oct. 4, 2002, completing a transfer that Earle and others believe may have been intended to hide the corporate origins of the money and circumvent the law.
The RNSEC contributions were highly unusual. In no other instance did RNSEC spend more than $2,000 on a state legislative candidate in September, October or November; virtually all of its money went instead to Republican governors and attorneys general.
Earle is scrutinizing the Oct. 4 contributions and trying to determine who was involved in "the decision-making process," according to a copy of one of his subpoenas.
Iverson, the RNC spokeswoman, said the Oct. 4 donations were drawn from a non-corporate account, altogether different from the corporate-related account into which the TRMPAC check was deposited. The fact that the total incoming and outgoing amounts were identical was simply "coincidence," she said. She declined to make available documents she said would support the claim, citing the pending lawsuit.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, with a reporter with WFAA in Dallas, smiled on his way to put the finishing touches on a congressional redistricting map after Texas House and Senate negotiators reached agreement on the matter.
(Ralph Barrera -- AP)
Fueling Texas Politics: How funds from corporate donors with federal interests were distributed by the Texans for a Republican Majority.