Judge Rules Against DeLay Group Official
AUSTIN, Texas — The treasurer of a political action committee formed by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay broke the law by not reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, a judge ruled Thursday in a lawsuit brought by Democratic candidates.
State District Judge Joe Hart said the money, much of it corporate contributions, should have been reported to the Texas Ethics Commission.
The judge ordered Bill Ceverha, treasurer of Texans for a Republican Majority, to pay nearly $200,000 in damages. It will be divided among those who brought the lawsuit against Ceverha — five Democrats who lost state legislative races in 2002.
The civil case is separate from a criminal investigation being conducted by the district attorney in Austin into whether the PAC funneled illegal corporate contributions to GOP candidates for the state Legislature. Three of DeLay’s top fund-raisers and eight corporations were indicted last year. Ceverha has not been charged.
DeLay has not been charged with any crime and was protected by congressional immunity from having to testify in the lawsuit, but he has been barraged on Capitol Hill with allegations of unethical conduct. DeLay spokesman Dan Allen did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday.
In the civil case, the Democrats claimed that Ceverha violated the state law designed to keep elections free from “the taint of corporate cash.” They said corporate money donated to the PAC was spent on political research, polling, mailing, fund-raising and conferences.
Under Texas law, corporate money can be used by PACs for administrative purposes, but not for direct campaign expenses. In his ruling, the judge dealt with the election code reporting requirements, not with the how the money was spent.
Hart found that contributions of corporate and non-corporate money totaling $613,433 should have been reported by Ceverha, along with expenditures of $684,507.
Ceverha’s lawyers argued in court that the PAC operated legally despite confusing state campaign funding laws.
The plaintiffs welcomed the judge’s ruling as good first step in rooting out illegal corporate spending during the 2002 Texas elections. “It sheds light on the illegal acts of Texans for a Republican Majority,” attorney Cris Feldman said.
Ceverha lawyer Terry Scarborough said the case will be appealed, and he suggested that the dispute is mostly about the Democrats’ anger over losing the elections.
During the 2002 legislative elections, the Republicans won control of the Texas House for the first time since Reconstruction. The GOP later used its majority to redraw Texas’ congressional districts and send more Republicans to Capitol Hill.