DeLay Allies Seek Dismissal of Charges
Thursday, May 12, 2005
AUSTIN, May 11 -- Two political associates of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) asked a judge Wednesday to throw out indictments that charge them with money laundering and unlawfully accepting corporate political contributions during the 2002 Texas legislative campaign.
Travis County District Judge Bob Perkins set a June 27 deadline to issue a ruling on the requests.
Lawyers for Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, who ran DeLay-founded political action committees, argued that the felony indictments were based on an unconstitutionally vague Texas law that governs the use of corporate political contributions. State law bars businesses and labor unions from contributing money to influence campaigns. But such money may be used to establish a political committee or pay for a committee's administrative costs, such as office rent and utilities.
At issue in this case is whether spending corporate money on pollsters, consultants and phone banks falls under the definition of administrative costs and not "express advocacy" for a candidate.
"The statute is over-broad, and it's vague," said J.D. Pauerstein, an attorney for Ellis, the director of DeLay's Washington-based political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority. During the 2002 election cycle, Ellis worked closely with Colyandro, then the executive director of Texans for a Republican Majority, also created by DeLay and based in Austin.
"We believe our indictment is correct and that the law is not unconstitutional. That will be our position in everything we file from here on," said Travis County Assistant District Attorney Gregg Cox.
Also in contention in the case is whether the transfer of $190,000 in corporate funds by Ellis and Colyandro to the Republican National State Elections Committee -- which subsequently donated the equivalent amount to seven GOP statehouse candidates supported by TRMPAC -- constituted money laundering.
TRMPAC is credited with helping to secure the election of a Republican majority to the Texas legislature in November 2002. That led to the appointment of a Republican speaker of the Texas House and the legislative control needed to redraw the state's 32 U.S. House districts in a way likely to send more Republicans to Congress in 2004.
Ellis and Colyandro were indicted last September by a Travis County grand jury on one count of money laundering each. Colyandro also was indicted on 13 counts of unlawful acceptance of a corporate political contribution. Washington consultant and fundraiser Warren RoBold, who helped TRMPAC raise money, was indicted on charges of accepting illegal corporate contributions. His case is proceeding separately and will be back in court June 21.
Eight corporations also were indicted for making illegal contributions to TRMPAC in amounts of $20,000 to $100,000. Charges against four of the businesses have been dropped in exchange for cooperation in the case.
Travis County District Attorney Ronald Earle is scheduled to appear before Perkins on Thursday on a request related to the TRMPAC prosecution. Earle has subpoenaed confidential documents from the Texas Ethics Commission that his office contends will show whether anyone subsequently associated with TRMPAC asked for an opinion on the legality of using corporate donations in a campaign. The commission has refused to turn over the documents despite the advice of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott that it comply.