AUSTIN, Texas – The Federal Election Committee has fined the Republican National Congressional Committee $280,000 for illegally channeling corporate funds to finance “attack ads” against Democratic congressional candidates during the 2000 elections.

Some of the people identified by the Federal Elections Commission as principals in the case are the same people being investigated by the Travis County district attorney for illegally using corporate funds to aid in the election of 22 Republican candidates running for the state House in 2002.

Democrats allege that illegal corporate money was key to Republican victories in these campaigns. Republican victories in all but a handful of the races led to their takeover of the state House of Representatives and the subsequent redistricting of Texas’ congressional districts.

In 1999 Jim Ellis, a Republican political operative with close ties to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, arranged for the Republican National Congressional Committee to funnel $500,000 in corporate donations to the United States Family Network, a group founded by Ed Buckham, DeLay’s former chief of staff.

The Family Network handed over $300,000 of the money to Americans for Economic Growth for whom Ellis was working as a consultant. Americans for Economic Growth used the money to run ads accusing Democratic members of Congress of using Social Security money to fund domestic programs and foreign aid. The FEC said that the use of corporate money to fund these ads violated federal election laws.

Ellis allegedly played a similar role in state legislative races in 2002. The Dallas Morning News and the Austin American Statesman have both reported that Ellis gave $190,000 in corporate contributions made to the Texans for a Republican Majority to the Republican National Committee, which in a matter of weeks returned the same amount of money to Republican legislative candidates in Texas. Republican candidates in tight races received between $20,000 and $40,000 as a result of this transaction.

Ellis was also the behind-the-scene manager of the Republican redistricting coup that in 2003 resulted in the gerrymandering of Texas’ congressional districts and the disenfranchisement of minority voters in the state.

These campaign contributions and other actions of Republican operatives that appear to violate state campaign financing laws are being investigated by District Attorney Ronnie Earle in Austin.

Fred Lewis, executive director of Campaigns for People, a campaign watchdog group, told the American Statesman that the FEC action shows that Ellis had previous experience with laundering corporate political donations for Republicans. “There always was a motive to turn the $190,000 into money that could be given to candidates,” Lewis said. “Now we know that one of the principals has engaged in such activity in the past. We have motive, opportunity, knowledge and prior acts.”

Earle has been presenting evidence to the grand jury investigating allegations that Texans for a Republican Majority and the Texas Association of Business illegally funneled corporate contributions to Republican legislative candidates in 2002. The grand jury adjourned on March 31 without issuing indictments. A new grand jury will convene soon and Earle will continue presenting evidence concerning these allegations.

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