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Texas political group indicted

Is charged with taking illegal corporate funds

AUSTIN, Texas -- A Texas grand jury has indicted a political organization formed by Tom DeLay, accusing it of taking illegal corporate money as the House majority leader helped Republicans win control of the Texas Legislature and kept Congress in GOP hands.

DeLay, Republican of Texas, was not indicted by a Travis County grand jury in the charges made public yesterday, although three of his political associates were charged earlier. District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, said he had no jurisdiction over DeLay's personal conduct.

A prominent Texas business group was also charged in what Earle called an attempt to funnel ''massive amounts of secret corporate wealth" into campaigns. State law prohibits the use of corporate contributions to advocate the election or defeat of state candidates.

The complaint alleges that once DeLay helped Republicans win control of the Legislature in 2002, the majority leader engineered a Republican redistricting plan that gave the state's US House delegation a 21-to-11 majority in the current Congress. The effort helped Republicans increase their House presence by five seats this year.

Kevin Madden, DeLay's spokesman, said the majority leader played only a limited role in the political organization, Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee -- also known as TRMPAC. He served on the organization's advisory board and appeared at fund-raising events, Madden said.

A complaint filed last year with the House Ethics Committee alleged that DeLay's activities with TRMPAC violated House rules, but the panel deferred action and has done nothing on the matter since.

The indictments allege that Texas Association of Business and the political committee worked together in a complicated scheme to circumvent the election code.

The charge against Texans for a Republican Majority alleges the committee illegally accepted $100,000 from the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care and $20,000 from AT&T.

Four indictments against the Texas Association of Business include charges of unlawful political advertising, unlawful contributions to a political committee, and unlawful expenditures.

The statewide business group spent about $1.7 million in corporate money for mailings in 2002. The group said it was trying to educate voters on issues, which is legal.

The business group's lawyer, Roy Minton, said the organization acted under the protections of the First Amendment, which ''gives individuals and their businesses the absolute right to inform the public of the conduct of our elected officials and the conduct of candidates for public office."

The grand jury last fall indicted three officials with Texans for a Republican Majority. John Colyandro of Austin and Jim Ellis of Washington, D.C., each were accused of one count of money laundering. Colyandro also faces 13 counts of unlawful acceptance of a corporate political contribution.

Washington fund-raiser Warren Robold was indicted on charges of accepting or making corporate donations.

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