Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Documents Suggest Bigger DeLay Role in Donations

The New York Times
March 9, 2005
Documents Suggest Bigger DeLay Role in Donations

WASHINGTON, March 8 - Documents subpoenaed from an indicted fund-raiser for Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, suggest that Mr. DeLay was more actively involved than previously known in gathering corporate donations for a political committee that is the focus of a grand-jury investigation in Texas, his home state.

The documents, which were entered into evidence last week in a related civil trial in Austin, the state capital, suggest that Mr. DeLay personally forwarded at least one large corporate check to the committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, and that he was in direct contact with lobbyists for some of the nation's largest companies on the committee's behalf.

In an August 2002 document subpoenaed from the files of the indicted fund-raiser, Warren M. RoBold, Mr. RoBold asked for a list of 10 major donors to the committee, saying that "I would then decide from response who Tom DeLay" and others should call to help the committee in seeking a "large contribution."

Another document is a printout of a July 2002 e-mail message to Mr. RoBold from a political ally of Mr. Delay, requesting a list of corporate lobbyists who would attend a fund-raising event for the committee, adding that "DeLay will want to see a list of attendees" and that the list should be available "on the ground in Austin for T.D. upon his arrival."

Under Texas law, corporations are barred from donating money to state political candidates. The Texas committee acknowledged receiving large corporate donations during the 2002 campaign but always insisted that the money was used for administrative costs, which is legal.

A spokesman for Mr. DeLay, Dan Allen, said that there was nothing in the documents to suggest any impropriety by the majority leader, and that Mr. DeLay's role as an adviser and fund-raiser for Texans for a Republican Majority was well known.

"His being on the advisory board is a well-established fact," Mr. Allen said.

"There are partisans out there who are trying to stretch the role of what he did with Trmpac," he added, using an acronym for the political action committee.

Mr. DeLay, who as majority leader is the second-most-powerful Republican in the House and who is considered his party's most aggressive fund-raiser in Congress, has said that he is not concerned about the grand jury investigation in Travis County, Tex., which includes most of Austin, and has told friends that he had no involvement in the day-to-day fund-raising operations of Texans for a Republican Majority.

Last September, the grand jury indicted two men close to Mr. DeLay: Mr. RoBold, a major fund-raiser for the Texas committee and for Mr. DeLay's national political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority; and James W. Ellis, the national committee's director and one of Mr. DeLay's closest political operatives. The Texas committee's executive director, John Colyandro, was also indicted.

Prosecutors accused them of being part of a scheme at the committee to funnel large corporate donations illegally to state Republican candidates in the months before the 2002 elections in Texas, in which Republicans took control of the State Legislature.

The 2002 elections in Texas had national significance, since they allowed Republicans to redraw the state's Congressional districts, benefiting Mr. DeLay by solidifying Republican control of the House.

In an interview last week, Ronnie Earle, the Travis County district attorney, would not rule out the possibility of criminal charges against Mr. DeLay, who was a founder of Texans for a Republican Majority and was a member of its advisory board. In recent months, Mr. DeLay has gathered donations for a fund to pay for lawyers to deal with the grand jury investigation and has accused Mr. Earle, a Democrat, of engaging in a partisan effort to "criminalize politics" in Texas.

A lawyer for Mr. RoBold, Rusty Hardin of Houston, said that the documents offered no evidence to suggest any wrongdoing by Mr. RoBold or Mr. DeLay, and that Mr. RoBold continued to believe that Mr. DeLay had only a limited advisory role on Texans for a Republican Majority.

"Warren was just having no contact with DeLay about this," Mr. Hardin said in an interview. "DeLay wasn't directing him."

In one of his more detailed references to Mr. DeLay in the documents, Mr. RoBold seemed to suggest in an e-mailed message on Aug. 19, 2002, that Mr. DeLay would follow the committee's direction in fund-raising, not direct the fund-raising himself.

"John," he wrote, referring to Mr. Colyandro, the committee's executive director. "Create a top 10 list of givers and let me call them to ask for large contribution. I would then decide from response who Tom DeLay others should call. If this is successful than I will do more of them."

Many of the records provided by Mr. RoBold are printouts of e-mailed messages that have spelling and grammatical errors.

Cris Feldman, a lawyer for the Democratic candidates, said he believed that the newly revealed documents from Mr. RoBold were eye-opening.

"We always knew Tom DeLay was involved," Mr. Feldman said, "but we never realized the extent to which he was involved in fund-raising directly with corporations."

One of the most intriguing documents, he said, was a printout of a September 2002 e-mail exchange between Mr. RoBold and Drew Maloney, a Washington lobbyist who is Mr. DeLay's former legislative director and administrative assistant in the House.

Mr. Maloney, who has lobbied on behalf of Reliant Energy, the Houston-based energy company that was a major contributor to Texans for a Republican Majority, offered Mr. RoBold a list of possible corporate donors to the Texas committee, adding: "I finally have the two checks from Reliant. Will deliver to T.D. next week."

The Texas committee's donation records show that it received a check for $25,000 from Reliant that month. The existence of some of the documents in Mr. RoBold's files was first reported last month by The Austin American-Statesman.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Mr. Maloney said he could not recall many of the details of the Reliant donations or whether checks from Reliant were ever transferred to the Texas committee through Mr. DeLay's office in Washington.

"I don't think it was necessarily meant that he'd get them himself," he said. "I don't know how that all flowed."

Mr. Allen, Mr. DeLay's spokesman, said he had no knowledge about whether Mr. DeLay or anyone in his office had actually received a check from Reliant in 2002 or whether one might have been forwarded to the Texas committee. "That was three years ago," he said.

Mr. Allen also said he saw no significance in the July 2002 e-mail message suggesting that Mr. DeLay wanted a list of lobbyists who would be attending a fund-raising event for the committee. "Only The New York Times would find it odd that any member would want to know who was going to be in a room before they walked into it," Mr. Allen said.

Asked if he had been contacted by prosecutors in Austin or by the grand jury, Mr. Maloney would not comment, saying instead: "I'm not going to get into these witch-hunt allegations. I think there's been enough written on all this stuff."

A spokeswoman for Reliant had no immediate comment on issues raised by the e-mail message.