WASHINGTON — A Texas grand jury Tuesday indicted three political fundraisers with ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) for allegedly funneling illegal corporate campaign funds to Republican candidates for state office.
DeLay, one of Congress' most powerful members, was not charged and called the indictments politically motivated. But the House's No. 2 leader, whose bare-knuckle political style has earned him the nickname "the Hammer," is still the subject of a House Ethics Committee complaint accusing him of improperly involving a federal agency in a Texas partisan matter, soliciting campaign contributions in return for legislative favors, and violating campaign finance laws.
DeLay said he had not been contacted by Texas authorities, and he questioned the timing of the indictments, announced by the Travis County district attorney, a Democrat, just weeks before congressional elections.
"This has been an investigation that has been underway for nearly two years, and 40 days before the election they've suddenly taken action," he said. "You do the political math."
The three indicted fundraisers -- involved with a political fundraising committee associated with DeLay -- are accused of improperly using corporate contributions to help elect a Republican majority to the Texas Legislature in 2002, the first time since Reconstruction that the GOP held the majority.
Texas law bars corporate contributions to candidates for state office.
The Republican majority helped DeLay orchestrate a controversial redrawing of congressional district lines, which was expected to tilt Texas' delegation to the U.S. House from a slim Democratic majority to firm Republican control after this fall's elections. That would, in turn, strengthen GOP control of the chamber.
The redistricting drew national attention when a group of Democratic lawmakers fled the Texas state capital for Oklahoma to temporarily stymie the remapping.
Freshman Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas), who lost his primary this year in a newly redrawn district, filed a 187-page complaint with the House Ethics Committee in June, accusing DeLay of improperly using his office to try to track down the Democrats who fled the state and of funneling $190,000 in corporate contributions to Texas lawmakers.
The Ethics Committee has been meeting to decide whether to open a formal investigation but reportedly is deadlocked -- along party lines -- on how to proceed.
Bell said Tuesday that the indictments left the committee "no option but to move forward with a full investigation" of DeLay.
DeLay told reporters at the U.S. Capitol that he had had no involvement in the day-to-day operations of Texans for a Republican Majority, the political fundraising committee named in the indictment, and that he knew of no wrongdoing.
"This investigation isn't about me," he said. "I haven't been asked to testify. I haven't been asked to provide any records.
"All I did was help raise money," DeLay said. "I didn't have anything to do with where it went."
Ronald Earle, Travis County district attorney, said in an interview: "Corporate contributions are illegal in Texas. They have been for a long time. The law is clear."
Earle said he was "pleased that we have reached this stage. But we have a long way to go."
Those indicted by a Travis County grand jury are John Colyandro, former executive director of Texans for a Republican Majority; James Ellis, who heads DeLay's national fund-raising committee, Americans for a Republican Majority; and Warren Robold, a former DeLay fundraiser. Eight corporations were charged with making a prohibited political contribution.
Ellis, 47, of Virginia, and Colyandro, 40, of Texas, were charged with money laundering. Colyandro was also charged with accepting corporate contributions, and Robold, 48, of Maryland, was charged with making and accepting corporate contributions.
Steve Brittain, an attorney for DeLay, told Associated Press that those charged did not think they were doing anything wrong.
"All of these people felt very comfortable that they were not violating the law, that they were following the rules as they understood them," Brittain said.
Tom "Smitty" Smith of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a liberal watchdog group, said the indictments "may be just the beginning of the unraveling of the conspiracy to control the Texas House and Congress."