Naked City

Ethics commission, DA's office end TRMPAC standoff

A standoff between the Texas Ethics Commission and Travis Co. prosecutors ended last week with attorneys brokering an agreement out of earshot of the courtroom where they had been expected to present arguments in the dispute. The impasse had centered on the commission's refusal to turn over confidential information to District Attorney Ronnie Earle in connection with his probe into possible campaign finance violations during the 2002 legislative races. The DA's office had sought the identity of a person who, in 1998, requested an Ethics Commission opinion on whether corporations could contribute to political action committees without filing disclosure reports with the state – then withdrew the request after learning that corporations are prohibited from giving money to PACs that they didn't help create. Earle wanted to know if the mystery person was later involved in the 2002 PAC work of Texans for a Republican Majority. The group, known as TRMPAC for short, built much of its success on financing from undisclosed corporate donors. The Ethics Commission initially balked at Earle's subpoena, arguing it was bound by confidentiality rules.

But last Thursday, the opposing sides emerged from the chambers of District Judge Bob Perkins and announced they had struck a deal: The unidentified person, represented by Houston criminal attorney George Parnham, had agreed to disclose his or her name to investigators. Parnham, lead defense attorney in the sensational murder trial of Andrea Yates, the Houston woman who drowned her five children in a bathtub, said the Ethics Commission matter "had taken on a life of its own" for no apparent reason. "It's a nonissue," he said of his client's 7-year-old request for an advisory opinion. "There was nothing nefarious about any of these activities as far as my client is concerned," he said.

The day before resolving the identity quandary, Perkins heard arguments from lawyers seeking the dismissal of indictments against TRMPAC co-defendants John Colyandro and Jim Ellis, who stand accused of money laundering. He's expected to issue a ruling next month.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

ethicscampaign finance, Texans for a Republican Majority, TRMPAC, Ronnie Earle, George Parnham, Bob Perkins, Texas Ethics Commission, campaign finance, Jim Ellis, John Colyandro

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