Treasurer of DeLay Group Broke Texas Election Law

Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) meets with veterans at the Capitol before the House adjourned for the Memorial Day weekend.
Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) meets with veterans at the Capitol before the House adjourned for the Memorial Day weekend. (By Mark Wilson -- Getty Images)
By Sylvia Moreno and R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 27, 2005

AUSTIN, May 26 -- A state judge ruled Thursday that the treasurer of a political fundraising committee organized by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) violated the state's election law by failing to report $684,507 in contributions from corporations and other donors in 2002.

The civil court decision is the first to uphold a complaint by Democrats about the way DeLay and his advisers financed a 2002 political victory in Texas, which ultimately helped cement Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The fundraising committee, Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), following a plan devised by the DeLay camp, helped elect the first Republican majority in the Texas House in 130 years. That allowed DeLay's allies here in the state legislature to redraw congressional districts and elect four additional Republicans to the U.S. House in 2004.

The decision by state District Judge Joseph H. Hart focused on the liability of the committee's treasurer and did not mention DeLay, who has denied involvement in any improprieties. The judge did not rule explicitly on the wider issue of whether the contributions themselves -- as opposed to the failure to report them -- were illegal.

Separate criminal charges related to that issue, including indictments of three political associates of DeLay and four of the corporations that provided contributions, are pending in another Texas court.

Bobby R. Burchfield, an attorney for DeLay, said that "the entire TRMPAC controversy really has very little to do" with the majority leader, a circumstance he said was confirmed by the absence of any mention of DeLay in the ruling. He said the decision "resolves, pending appeal, a good-faith dispute about whether particular contributions and expenditures are reportable under this ambiguous statute" and should not be overblown.

DeLay, asked by a reporter for CNN if the ruling had implications for him, responded: "Not for me. I'm not part of it."

But attorneys for the five defeated Texas Democratic state legislature candidates who brought the lawsuit said the opinion provides a foundation for future court rulings adverse to DeLay's committee and those connected to it.

Cris Feldman, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that "today's opinion is an important first step in holding accountable Texans for a Republican Majority for its illegal use of secret corporate cash in the 2002 Texas state elections."

Terry Scarborough, the lawyer who represented TRMPAC and its treasurer, responded with a written statement saying that "we feel strongly that this decision is wrong." The statement added: "Our client was exercising his constitutional rights."

Scarborough said he hopes to obtain the judge's permission to appeal the ruling before the related criminal case is concluded.

At issue were the activities of the Texas group, created in 2001 by DeLay and his advisers to reorder the state and national political maps. Its director was John Colyandro, a veteran of White House political adviser Karl Rove's direct-mail firm; one of its decision-makers was Jim Ellis, who runs DeLay's federal political action committee; and its chief corporate fundraiser was Warren RoBold, who performed the same function for DeLay's federal committee.

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