Three DeLay pals indicted in Texas

AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas grand jury here Sept. 21 indicted three Republican operatives for money laundering and illegal corporate contributions to Republican candidates for the state House of Representatives in 2002.

The grand jury also indicted seven corporations and one nursing home trade association for making illegal contributions.

The individuals indicted all had ties to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, but so far DeLay has avoided indictment.

The illegal contributions played a key role in the Republican takeover of the Texas House of Representatives, which eventually led to the redrawing of Texas’ congressional districts in 2003. The redistricting will likely result in the state sending five more Republicans to the House of Representatives, which would help DeLay consolidate his control of Congress. It also disenfranchises minorities at a time when they are poised to outnumber whites in the state.

The Travis County Grand Jury returned indictments against John Colyandro, Jim Ellis, and Warren RoBold. Colyandro was charged with money laundering and 14 counts of unlawful acceptance of corporate political contributions; Ellis with money laundering; and RoBold with nine counts of unlawful political contributions by a corporation and nine counts of accepting them.

Colyandro was the former executive director of Texans for a Republican Majority (TRM), a group set up by DeLay to funnel money to Republican candidates for the state Legislature. Prior to that Colyandro was chief of staff for the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Carole Strayhorn, a Republican. He also worked for Koch, Inc., an energy company, whose owners are big contributors to George W. Bush and other Republicans.

Ellis, a former DeLay staff member, is head of Americans for a Republican Majority, also founded by DeLay. He also was DeLay’s liaison with state Republican legislators, who redrew the state’s congressional districts and made sure that the new districts conformed to DeLay’s wishes.

RoBold is described by the Austin American Statesman as a DeLay fundraiser. He also works with Americans for a Republican Majority and raises money for them.

The charges are a result of a complaint filed by Texans for Public Justice in March 2003. TPJ alleged that TRM and the Texas Association of Business funneled more than $600,000 in corporate funds into the campaigns of 23 Republicans running for the state Legislature. Most of these candidates won, resulting in a Republican takeover. State law prohibits corporations and unions from making contributions to political candidates.

The money laundering charge against Colyandro and Ellis stems from a $190,000 contributions from corporations that ended up in the hands of seven Republican candidates for the Texas House. The indictment alleges that Colyandro and Ellis gave the Republican National State Elections Committee $190,000 in corporate money donated to TRM. Subsequently, the committee gave the seven Republican candidates a total of $190,000.

The corporations indicted are Bacardi USA; Cracker Barrel of Lebanon, Tenn.; Diversified Collections Services, a debt collection company based in San Leandro, Calif.; Questerra Corp., an information technology company based in Charlottesville, Va.; Sears; Westar Energy, Inc. of Topeka, Kan.; and the Williams Companies, Inc, a natural gas company out of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Alliance for Quality Nursing Homes, Inc., a trade association of large nursing home chains, was also indicted. It is charged with making illegal donations of $100,000, which were hand-delivered to Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick. Craddick has not been indicted but the county will convene another grand jury because this one disbanded in September and more indictments are expected.

Next to DeLay, Craddick was the biggest beneficiary of the illegal contributions. Republican victories in 2002 led to his election as House Speaker in 2003, despite a lackluster 30-year career as a legislator.

Craddick’s and DeLay’s power play couldn’t have come at a better time for them. If they had waited two more years to wrest control of the Texas House, they may have failed. According Dr. Steve Murdoch, a demographer at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, and other minorities together became the majority in Texas in 2004. By seizing power in 2002 and redrawing legislative and congressional districts, Republicans diluted minority voting strength and made it more difficult for them to gain the political power that their numbers could dictate.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.