Tomstown Suits Go Forward

A Travis Co. judge declines TRMPAC's motions for summary judgment

On April 6, District Judge Darlene Byrne rejected the motions for summary judgments requested by Texans for a Republican Majority in a lawsuit brought against the PAC by four defeated Democratic 2002 legislative candidates. TRMPAC attorney Terry Scarborough had argued that his clients, including PAC treasurer and former Republican state Rep. Bill Ceverha, could only be liable for funds spent in the four Democrats' specific races, but Byrne agreed with the plaintiffs' argument that Texas campaign finance law was designed not to compensate for damages but to be punitive: "to deter violators and encourage enforcement by candidates and others directly participating in the process, rather than placing the entire enforcement burden on the government."

Byrne also denied, without comment, TRMPAC's "no-evidence" motion for summary judgment. TRMPAC founder Jim Ellis, aide to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, was added as a defendant following depositions suggesting he played a decisive role in the PAC's campaign activities, but Ellis has indicated that he intends to argue that he hasn't had sufficient Texas contact to be subject to the suit.

On a related front – the Travis Co. grand jury investigation into the election activities of TRMPAC and the Texas Association of Business – it was reported last week that AT&T has been subpoenaed concerning the company's contributions of corporate ("soft") money to TRMPAC. AT&T is one of numerous companies for which TRMPAC reported corporate contributions in its filings with the Internal Revenue Service but not with the Texas Ethics Commission. In its original 2003 complaint to Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle – which kicked off the DA's grand jury probe – the campaign watchdog group Texans for Public Justice questioned whether TRMPAC had spent corporate money on campaign activities, in violation of state law.

Also last week, the Federal Election Commission levied a $280,000 fine against the National Republican Congressional Committee for spending corporate donations on 1999 "issue ad" campaigns, in violation of federal election law – violations similar to those at the heart of the Tomstown proceedings. Jim Ellis had been named in the original complaint for his role of political consultant to Americans for Economic Growth, which received some of the money, but the FEC did not sanction Ellis or AEG. According to the conciliation agreement between the FEC and the NRCC, "The NRCC representative who hand-delivered the check to [the United States Family Network, coordinating the ad campaign] made statements at the time to the effect that the NRCC did not want to know how the funds would be used." Ellis released a statement saying the FEC action was punishment for no more than an "accounting error."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Tomstown, Darlene Byrne, Texans for a Republican Majority, TRMPAC, Bill Ceverha, Ronnie Earle, Texas Association of Business, TAB, Terry Scarborough, Jim Ellis, Texans for Public Justice, Federal Elections Commission, United States Family Network, Americans for Economic Growth

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