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DeLay/TRMPAC Indictments Include Cornell Contributions

by Matthew T. Clarke

On September 21, 2004, a Travis County, Texas, grand jury handed down 33
felony indictments against people and corporations associated with
Republican U. S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Tom Delay and the
Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee (TRMPAC). The
indictments included two first-degree felony charges of money laundering
and thirty third-degree felony counts of accepting, soliciting or making
illegal campaign contributions. First-degree felonies in Texan carry a
maximum of life in prison and a $10,000 fine while third-degree felonies
carry a maximum of ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Corporations
convicted of third-degree felonies may be fined up to $20,000.

The scandal centers around illegal corporate contributions made to TRMPAC
that were funneled on to state legislative political campaigns. The
contributors included: Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care ($100,000);
Diversified Collection Services, Inc., California ($50,000); Sears Roebuck
and Co., Illinois ($25,000); The Williams Companies, Inc., Oklahoma
($25,000), Westar Energy, Kansas ($25,000); Cracker Barrell, Tennessee
($25,000); Bacardi USA, Florida ($20,000); Questerra. Corp., Virginia
($25,000); and Cornell Companies, Inc., Texas ($10,000)--the third-largest
private prison corporation in the U.S., which operates 71 correctional
facilities nationwide for federal, state and local governments.

According to the indictments, on September 13, 2002, Jim Ellis, a paid
TRMPAC political consultant and aide to DeLay, gave to the Republican
National Committee a check for $190,000, signed by TRMPAC executive
director John Colyandro, along with a list of Texas Republican legislative
candidates and instructions on how much to funnel to each candidate. The
Republican National State Elections Committee then allegedly sent checks
for a total of $190,000 to seven Texas Republican state legislative candidates.

Under Texas state law, it is illegal for a corporation to contribute money
directly for political purposes. Corporate donations may be used to defray
general administrative expenses, such as utility bills or rent. Ellis and
Colyandro were indicted for money laundering. Colyandro was also indicted
for thirteen counts of accepting illegal contributions. DeLay fundraiser
Warren RoBold was indicted for nine counts of soliciting and accepting
illegal contributions. Questerra Corporation was indicted for two counts of
making illegal contributions while Westar Energy, Diversified Collection
Services, Sears Roebuck, The Williams Companies, Bacardi USA, Cracker
Barre, and the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care were each indicted
for one count of making an illegal contribution. Travis County Public
Integrity Unit director Greg Cox stated that these indictments were only
"one portion of the overall investigation." The indictments against
Colyandro and RoBold were based on the contributions from the indicted
companies and Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway, Cornell Companies,
Reliant Resources, AT&T and El Paso Corporation which have not yet been

The TRMPAC scandal has also resulted in a lawsuit filed by five losing
Democratic legislative candidates against Bill Ceverha, the treasurer of
TRMPAC, alleging he violated state election laws by failing to report
$523,333 in corporate contributions to TRMPAC. The judge over the suit,
Travis County state District Judge Joe Hart, a Democrat, was selected by
both TRMPAC lawyers and plaintiffs' lawyers for his well-know history of

On May 26, 2005, Hart ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, awarding them
$196,000 plus attorney fees. This is the first judicial ruling that
TRMPAC's methods were illegal.

An ethics complaint against DeLay brought by former Democratic Congressman
Chris Bell, had been put on hold by the House Ethics Committee pending the
outcome of the criminal cases because the Ethics Committee said it needed a
judicial interpretation of Texas election law. Now it has one.

"I find that the contributions were used in connection with a campaign for
elective office. Therefore, they were political contributions or campaign
contributions within the meaning of . . . the Election Code," ruled Hart.
Bell is urging the Ethics Committee to restart the investigation.
In a sworn deposition from the civil suit, Colyandro admitted that he told
a TRMPAC accountant to send Ellis a blank check the day before Ellis gave
the check to RNC officials. He also stated in sworn testimony that the
members of the TRMPAC advisory board, which included DeLay, were involved
in decisions about which candidates to support and how much to funnel to them.

DeLay responded to the indictments by claiming that it is not illegal for
PACs to accept soft money (from corporations and unions), give the soft
money to a national political party, and the national political party to
give hard money directly to candidates. This is essentially the same
defense used by Ceverha unsuccessfully in the civil suit. It is also the
defense the TRMPAC officials say they will use.

Sources: Associated Press, Dallas Morning News, Austin Chronicle, Houston

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