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Political Fundraising in Texas Is Target of Probe

Officials look at whether money linked to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay improperly financed Republican campaigns.

January 03, 2004|Scott Gold | Times Staff Writer

Investigators said they believed that Texans for a Republican Majority and TAB coordinated their efforts during the election, sharing staff, for instance, meeting to plot strategy and supporting virtually the same slate of Republican candidates. It is unclear whether that combined effort violated any campaign law, investigators said. Hammond said the two groups did not coordinate their efforts.

TAB raised nearly $2 million during the election in an effort to sway 22 House races, according to its newsletter. The money was spent on advertisements, most of them mailers.

Many of the ads attacked Democratic candidates. Some supported Republicans, noting their opposition to taxes and the GOP's links with President Bush, a former Texas governor.

Hammond said the ads, which he calls "voter education," were legal because they did not use what some courts have termed "magic words" -- words that directly encourage people to vote for or against a candidate.

The group has refused to disclose the source of the money it collected, saying that information is private under constitutional grounds. The American Civil Liberties Union is supporting TAB's effort to keep the donors secret.

"The question revolves around the ability of an association such as ours to criticize the government," Hammond said. "It is a sad day when a group of people can't band together and express their feelings to the public about what the Legislature is doing. We feel very strongly about this."

TAB boasted about the influence it had on the elections. One of its newsletters contained testimonials from GOP candidates, including one who said TAB ads "absolutely won the race for me." Weeks before the election, Hammond sent a letter to supporters saying that his organization had "caught the attention of statewide governmental leadership."

"The Texas business community is a force to recon [sic] with," the letter said. "Thank you again for helping to make this effort such a success! P.S. Don't forget to vote!!"

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