DeLay, Inc. on the Brink? Prosecutors Probe the Legality of Tom DeLay's Texas Republican Majority

Article excerpt

CRIMINAL PROSECUTORS HAVE SUBPOENAED U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Tom DeLay's daughter--along with current and former DeLay aides--in a widening probe of allegations that politicos spent millions of illegal corporate dollars to orchestrate a 2002 Republican takeover of the Texas House of Representatives.

That takeover will exact national repercussions for years to come. The DeLay loyalist whom it ensconced as Texas House Speaker helped redraw Texas' congressional districts last year to DeLay's specifications. It hardly will be surprising, then, if the candidates elected to these new GOP congressional districts in November someday express their gratitude by making DeLay speaker of a more powerful House.

Since the 1978 election of Governor Bill Clements, Republicans led by Karl Rove--the strategist behind President George W. Bush's political career--have swiftly transformed the political landscape of Texas. The Lone Star State long had been the turf of so-called "yellow-dog Democrats," who would sooner elect a hound than vote Republican. But by Bush's gubernatorial reign in the late 1990s, Republicans controlled every statewide elected office and were banging on the doors of the last vestige of Democratic control: the Texas House.

A 1996 Republican PAC called "76 in '96," fell just eight seats short of the 76 seats needed to control the 150 member House, inspiring a failed follow-up PAC called "Eight in '98." By 2000, when a decennial U.S. Census was paving the way to political redistricting, then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay personally waded into these state elections, chairing the Victory 2000 PAC. The GOP takeover of the House was the top priority of Victory 2000, which set out to raise $4 million. Yet the Austin political newsletter Quorum Report wrote two months before that election that heads were rolling at DeLay's PAC after it fell woefully short of its fund raising goal. Even with Bush headlining the ballot and with DeLay corralling cash, Republicans again failed to seize the Texas House in 2000.

Next time, things were going to be different.

THE CORPORATE TAB

The first sign that something had gone amok with Texas' 2002 election came from the Texas Association of Business (TAB). Texas' leading business lobby bragged in its post election newsletter that it "blew the doors off" the election by spending $2 million in an "unprecedented show of muscle." TAB said that it flexed most of this muscle on behalf of GOP candidates in "22 hotly contested Texas House races." The 18 of these candidates who won were crucial to the GOP's takeover of the House. The same newsletter quoted state representative Gene Seaman saying, "The TAB mail pieces and television ad absolutely won the race for me."

Although $2 million is more money than any non-party PAC spent on that state election, the most shocking part of TAB's boast was that just $100,000 of this amount came from TAB's PAC. The other $1.9 million came from a secret slush fund that TAB amassed after promising donors--including corporations--that their identities would be kept secret. Rather than giving this money to candidates directly, TAB spent it on "independent, educational" ads that trashed Democrats running in those "hotly contested" House races.

This corporate money commanded attention because Texas--which richly deserves its reputation as "the Wild West of money in politics"--nonetheless has outlawed corporate expenditures on electioneering since the robber-baron days of a century ago. Alleging that TAB violated Texas' prohibition against corporate electioneering, four defeated Democratic House candidates filed a pending lawsuit even before the new GOP House majority took office in January 2003. Soon thereafter, the state-funded Public Integrity Unit of Austin's Travis County District Attorney's Office convened a grand jury to investigate TAB's actions.

TAB attorney Andy Taylor counter-sued Democratic District Attorney Ronnie Earle in federal court, arguing that the grand jury probe violated TAB's constitutionally protected free-speech rights. …