T.A.B. Staff Held in Contempt

After two rejections from appellate courts, the Texas Association of Business filed a third appeal this week in its struggle to fend off a grand-jury inquiry into its alleged violations of Texas campaign finance laws. The six-month investigation took another twist Monday when District Judge Mike Lynch found two T.A.B. employees in contempt of court for refusing to testify. The staffers, Jack Campbell and Cathy DeWitt, were released on $2,500 personal-recognizance bonds.

T.A.B. attorney Andy Taylor is asking the state Court of Criminal Appeals -- which has already rejected the group's case -- to reconsider T.A.B.'s arguments. "Thus far we have not been able to get an appellate court to review our claim on First Amendment rights," Taylor said Tuesday as he prepared paperwork for filing. "The court ruled that unless and until T.A.B. is forced to answer a question and refuses to answer, then it could not rule on the merits of the case." Campbell and DeWitt have now provided the CCA with that opportunity, Taylor says. He vowed that his clients, including T.A.B. president and CEO Bill Hammond, would continue to refuse to testify on constitutional grounds.

The business lobby group is accused of using corporate contributions to secretly finance a $1.9 million mass mailing targeting 24 legislative races in the 2002 election. The group predominantly favored Republican candidates over Democrats and is credited with helping to commandeer GOP control of the House for the first time since Reconstruction. The creator of some of the ads in question, public-relations consultant Chuck McDonald, was also summoned to testify -- against T.A.B.'s wishes. The district attorney's office has granted McDonald immunity in exchange for his testimony.

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