Things got even a little more dim for the embattled 'hammer' today when a Texas judge ruled that DeLay's political action committee violated Texas state law by not disclosing close to $600,000 in corporate donations. This was only the civil part of the investigation that DeLay's group was in violation of the law. The criminal actions against the PAC are still pending.
CNN: New ethics cloud over Tom DeLay
Texas judge rules against PAC treasurer
Thursday, May 26, 2005 Posted: 3:13 PM EDT (1913 GMT)
HOUSTON, Texas (Reuters) -- Ethics questions swirling around U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay mounted Thursday when a Texas judge ruled that a committee formed by the powerful Republican had violated state law by failing to disclose $600,000 in mostly corporate donations.
State District Judge Joe Hart in Austin made the ruling in a lawsuit filed by five Democratic candidates defeated in 2002 by Republicans who received money from Texans for a Republican Majority, a political action committee founded by DeLay to help Republicans capture the Texas Legislature.
Hart awarded the Democrats a total of $196,660 in damages.
DeLay, the second-ranking Republican in the House, was not a defendant in the suit, which was filed against committee treasurer Bill Ceverha. But the ruling was the latest setback for DeLay, who has been under fire in recent months for ethics problems involving fund-raising, foreign travel and his relationships with lobbyists.
The Democrats charged that the political committee did not report the corporate money and that it was used illegally, because Texas law forbids the use of corporate donations in political campaigns.
Ceverha argued that the money went toward administrative costs, not campaigns.
The committee's efforts helped Republicans take control of Texas Legislature for the first time since the Reconstruction era after the U.S. Civil War, and led to a controversial remapping of the state's congressional districts which ultimately increased the party's majority in the U.S. House.
Hart, who heard testimony in the lawsuit in March but did not rule until now, said in his written decision the contributions should have been reported to the Texas Ethics Commission because "they were used in connection with a campaign for elective office."
He did not rule specifically on whether the money was raised and spent illegally, saying that was "for another trial."
The decision was a victory for clean politics, said Joe Crews, attorney for the Democrats.
"We're very happy and believe this is the first step in upholding the integrity of the Texas electoral process," he said.
"It sends a very clear message to corporations and lobbyists and other folks that this sort of secretive, underhanded activity is against the law and not allowed in Texas."