Texas redistricting scandal

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Following the 2002 election cycle and redistricting which followed in Texas, an investigation was launched into the fundraising activities of Rep. Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) TRMPAC (Texans for a Republican Majority PAC). The committee, whose stated purpose was electing a GOP majority to the Texas state legislature, had historically been very successful at raising money for Republican candidates. Since its founding in 1994 by DeLay, the PAC donated nearly $4.2 million to Republican congressional and presidential candidates.[4]

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is currently under indictment for money laundering.[1]
Jim Ellis, left, and John Colyandro each face charges of money laundering, violating Texas election law, and unlawfully accepting corporate contributions.[2]
Warren RoBold faces charges stemming from unlawfully soliciting and accepting corporate contributions.[3]

Alleged wrongdoing and indictments

On September 21, 2004, three top political aides to DeLay were indicted in Travis County, Texas for illegally raising political funds from corporations in 2002, much of which was funneled into the hands of Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature. Corporate contributions to state legislative candidates are illegal in Texas, unless they are used for administrative expenses such as rent, bookkeeping, utilities, and administrative personnel. In addition, state law forbids corporate donations to political parties during the final 60 days before an election (a time frame the donations were allegedly within).

The Travis County grand jury indicted DeLay political aide and head of DeLay's Washington-based Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC) Jim Ellis, fundraiser Warren RoBold and John Colyandro, the executive director of TRMPAC. Ellis and Colyandro were each indicted on one count of money laundering for allegedly taking $190,000 in corporate money raised by TRMPAC and giving it to the Republican National Committee, which then had the Republican National State Elections Committee contribute to seven Texas House candidates. In addition, Colyandro was indicted on 13 counts of unlawfully accepting $425,000 in corporate political contributions. RoBold was indicted on nine counts of unlawfully soliciting and accepting $250,000 in corporate political contributions. [5]

Eight corporations also were indicted for illegal political contributions. These included: Diversified Collection Services, Inc., Sears, Roebuck and Co., Williams Companies, Inc., Cornell Companies, Bacardi U.S.A. Inc., Questerra Corporation, Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care Inc. and Westar Energy, Inc. The indictments followed a 21-month investigation by three different grand juries into the activities of TRMPAC. The result of that inquiry, said Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, was an “outline of an effort to use corporate contributions to control representative democracy in Texas.”

On September 8, 2005, another grand jury indicted TRMPAC for its accepting of an illegal political contribution of $100,000 from the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, and the Texas Association of Business on four indictments, including charges of unlawful political advertising, unlawful contributions to a political committee and unlawful expenditures such as those to political candidates.[6]

On September 13, 2005, Colyandro and Ellis were indicted "on additional felony charges of violating Texas election law and criminal conspiracy to violate election law for their role in the 2002 legislative races." [7]

On September 29, 2005, Earle’s office indicted DeLay for the first time, along with Ellis and Colyandro again, on a single count of criminal conspiracy. The following week, on October 3, Earle persuaded a new grand jury at its first meeting to return two additional indictments for money laundering and conspiracy for the three of them.

Details of the allegations

The indictments center upon a Texas law which bans the use of corporate and labor union money from political campaigns. According to the indictments against DeLay, Ellis, and Colyandro issued on September 28, 2005, TRMPAC violated Texas law when it accepted donations from corporate entities, and then proceeded to turn that money over to the Republican National Committee for the purpose of supporting Republican candidates in their respective state legislative campaigns.

The indictment claims that John Colyandro and TRMPAC, with the aid of fundraiser Warren Robold, accepted contributions from Diversified Collection Services, Inc. ($50,000), Sears, Roebuck and Co. ($25,000), Williams Companies, Inc. ($25,000), Cornell Companies ($10,000), Bacardi U.S.A. Inc. ($20,000), and Questerra Corporation ($25,000). Four additional donations, from the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care Inc. ($100,000), Westar Energy, Inc. ($25,000), Cracker Barrel Inc. ($25,000), and another from Questerra Corp. ($25,000) were named as donors in the 2004 indictment against Ellis, Colyandro, and Robold, but not the 2005 one including DeLay.

In addition, the indictment claims that Ellis and TRMPAC, “did tender, deliver, and cause to be tendered,” a check signed by John Colyandro (but filled out by Ellis) to Terry Nelson, a representative of the Republican National Committee, for $190,000. The check, the indictment claims, was written from the same account from which the corporate contributions were deposited. Along with the check, Ellis provided Nelson with a document containing the names of candidates for the Texas House of Representatives and amounts to be contributed to each. These candidates were Todd Baxter, Dwayne Bohac, Glenda Dawson, Dan Flynn, Rick Green, Jack Stick, and Larry Taylor. The indictment does not in detail describe the extent to which Tom DeLay was involved in the transactions, but rather states that he, “knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily,” participated.

The indictments of the three handed down by Earle on October 3, 2005 expanded the allegations to “money laundering of funds of the value of $100,000 or more,” a first-degree felony. [8] [9] [10]

Possible punishment

In Texas, money laundering faces a possible punishment of five to 99 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The two violations of the Election Code are third-degree felonies punishable by a possible prison sentence of two to 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000 (for which only Ellis and Colyandro are charged). Criminal conspiracy as charged in the aforementioned indictment is a state jail felony with a possible punishment of 180 days to two years in a state jail and a fine of up to $10,000. [11]

According to Texas Penal Code Chapter 34:02, a person commits the offense of money laundering if he/she knowingly:

  • Acquires or maintains an interest in, receives, conceals, possesses, transfers, or transports the proceeds of criminal activity.
  • Conducts, supervises, or facilitates a transaction involving the proceeds of criminal activity.
  • Invests, expends, or receives, or offers to invest, expend, or receive, the proceeds of criminal activity or funds that the person believes are the proceeds of criminal activity. [12]

The lead-up to DeLay’s indictment

In August 2005, before his indictment, DeLay met with Ronnie Earle to discuss his role in TRMPAC. Asked what his role was in creating TRMPAC, DeLay said it was his vision and his idea, sources said. He argued, however, that he knew only in general terms about the organization’s day-to-day operations. DeLay admitted that he was generally aware of a plan to shift money between Texas and Washington. When asked whether he was aware of the $190,000 handover to the Republican National Committee, he affirmed. According to DeLay, when asked what he thought of the plan, he responded, “fine.” He added that he knew it was corporate money, but said it was fine because he thought it was legal.

Earle interpreted the Texas law as implying that only one person involved in a conspiracy has to perform an overt act, such as turning over a check. Those who support or agree with the act, even after the criminal activity is already under way, are equally responsible. Given this interpretation, Earle interpreted DeLay’s comments as self-incriminating.

On September 23, Ed Bethune, a retired FBI agent and former Arkansas congressman who oversaw DeLay’s legal defenses, met with Earle to discuss the possibility of DeLay pleading guilty to a lesser charge than Ellis, an idea that Earle was prepared to accept, according to several sources. Earle said he wanted Ellis and DeLay to spend three to four months in jail if their appeals failed, an idea that DeLay's lawyers rejected.

At the meeting, Earle and DeLay’s defense were unable to reach an agreement. The following week, Earle presented his case to the grand jury and won a felony conspiracy indictment, forcing DeLay to resign as House Majority Leader. Earle then decided that the best course would be to bring a new charge of money laundering, an offense that may require a higher standard of proof than conspiracy. But the old grand jurors could not be called back, and the only other grand jury empanelled in Travis County had just two days left to serve. Its members decided not only to vote against the proposed indictment, but also to make their decision public.

Over the following weekend, Earle asked his staff to collect transcripts of everything DeLay had said publicly. Armed with what he considered more self-incriminating evidence, Earle persuaded a new grand jury at its first meeting to return two new indictments for money laundering and conspiracy. [13]

DeLay argues the indictments are political

Immediately following the first indictment, DeLay argued publicly that the charges against him were politically motivated and unjustified. He accused Earle of, “politics at its sleaziest.” On a Fox News interview on October 2, 2005, DeLay gave his version of the events. He stated, “I knew about this after it happened, because Jim Ellis in passing said, ‘Oh, by the way, we sent some money to . . . [an arm of the Republican National Committee]’ and I said okay.” He continued, “That wasn't an approval. That was an acknowledgment” of what had happened. The meeting occurred, he said, in October 2002. In a separate interview on Fox that week, DeLay conceded that “Jim Ellis would let me know how things were going, because I was interested in how things were going, and how much money they were raising.” [14]

Ronnie Earle’s past

DeLay argued that Earle, a Democrat, had a history of indicting his political enemies. Among them, he cited an unsuccessful investigation of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) on charges of official misconduct and records tampering in 1993. Earle, however, has actually prosecuted more Democrats than Republicans since his stint as Attorney General began in 1977. They include a state legislator from El Paso in 2000; two from Waco in 1995, a San Antonio voter registrar in 1992 and the state treasurer in 1982. Earle even prosecuted himself in 1983, paying a $212 fine for tardy campaign finance disclosure filings. [15]

DeLay judge removed

On November 1, semi-retired Senior Judge C.W. "Bud" Duncan ruled after a four-hour hearing that Judge Bob Perkins should be removed from DeLay's case because of his past financial contributions to Democratic candidates and causes (such as MoveOn).

DeLay seeks to have charges thrown out

On October 3, DeLay’s lawyers filed a motion to throw out the charge of conspiracy to violate election law as fraudulent, claiming it was a violation of the U.S. Constitution's ban on ex-post facto applications of law. DeLay's lawyers claim that, in 2002, the crime of conspiracy did not apply to Texas election law.

On November 3, 2005, Pat Priest, another “semi-retired” judge, was chosen to preside over the case. On November 22, DeLay filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him. On December 5, Priest dismissed one count, conspiracy to violate election law, but let stand two counts alleging money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. On April 19, 2006, the Texas Third Court of Appeals upheld the decision. On May 19, prosecutors filed an appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal court, to reinstate the original conspiracy indictment.

On September 13, 2006, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals court announced that it would consider reinstating the original conspiracy charge. [16]

DeLay forced to resign

DeLay resigned his post as Majority Leader on September 28, the day his first indictment was handed down. Nevertheless, he remained in the House, and originally vowed to run for reelection in 2006. DeLay won the Republican primary on March 7, 2006, taking 62% of the vote in the four-way race. DeLay outspent his closest opponent, Tom Campbell, by a near 20-1 ratio. This was his lowest showing in a primary election, and it prompted questions about whether he could win the general election.

On April 3, 2006, DeLay announced that he would not run for re-election. He explained that polls showed him beating Democratic opponent Nick Lampson in the general election, but that the possibility of losing the election was too risky.

Ellis and Colyandro argue law is too confusing

On August 22, 2006, lawyers for both Jim Ellis and John Colyandro argued that the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals should exonerate both men because the state's ban on corporate campaign money is too confusing. Attorney Joe Turner stated, "It should be so clear that they know they are violating the law...Real citizens can't look at the law and understand it." Travis County prosecutors disagreed, urging the court to let the prosecution continue. [17]

Prosecutors challenge dismissal of conspiracy charge

In mid-January of 2007, prosecutors brought the dismissal of the count of conpiracy up on appeal, citing clear violation of state election code. However, DeLay argued that the provision of the election code was put in to place after the alleged conspiracy was to have taken place. The end result being that the criminal trial could not move forward until after the appeal process concluded, stretching the length of the trial and hurting DeLay's chance of re-election. [18]

Articles and Resources


Wikipedia also has an article on the Tom DeLay corruption investigation. This article may use content from the Wikipedia article under the terms of the GFDL.