Naked City

TAB Strikes Out Again

Like every other court in the Lone Star State, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has taken a pass on hearing the First Amendment arguments of the Texas Association of Business -- and thus kept alive Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle's investigation into the state's largest business organization.

The CCA last week rejected TAB's request to consider its appeal. TAB has spent nearly a year defending the propriety of using nearly $2 million in private corporate funds to bankroll a political advertising campaign during the 2002 election cycle. TAB refuses to disclose the sources of the funding, though it is illegal under Texas law for corporations to give money to political campaigns. Despite having taken credit for the ad campaign's contribution to the GOP takeover of the Texas Legislature, and despite the fact that the TAB-funded ads and direct-mail pieces slammed the integrity of (mostly Democratic) candidates, the group argues that because the ads did not specifically advocate for the defeat of the candidates, the campaign was perfectly legal.

Earle, unimpressed by this reasoning, has spent more than seven months investigating TAB for possible violations of state election laws. The group has fought back strenuously, raising First Amendment arguments (both freedoms of speech and of association) while refusing to comply with grand jury subpoenas for documents and testimony of TAB principals. TAB attorney Andy Taylor says he will appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Earle was quick to respond to last week's ruling: "Freedom of speech and freedom of association are rights that are precious to all Americans," he said. "TAB's contempt for these principles in an attempt to defend its actions is an outrageous insult to law-abiding Texans and should stop."

Fred Lewis of Campaigns for People, a leader in Texas political reform efforts, applauded the CCA decision. "The court's denial of TAB's petition means that the grand jury may now do what grand juries do: investigate for possible crimes," he said. "If [TAB] and others have violated the state's corporate-contribution prohibition, which is a felony, then they should be prosecuted like anyone else."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

TAB, Texas Association of Business, Ronnie Earle, Court of Criminal Appeals, Fred Lewis, Andy Taylor

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