Texas Supreme Court lets Green Party on ballot -- for now

AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that the Green Party can put its candidates on the November statewide ballot while it considers whether the party took improper donations to fund its petition drive.

The Green Party has maintained the donations were legal, but state Democrats insist they are not. The high court overturned a lower court's decision blocking the Green Party from the ballot but said it wants to consider the Democrats' arguments.

Shortly after the ruling, the Green Party filed the names of candidates Deb Shafto (governor), Herb Gonzales, Jr. (lieutenant governor), Ed Lindsay (comptroller) and Art Browning (railroad commission) with the secretary of state. Friday was the deadline.

But the candidates' time on the ballot may be short. The Supreme Court said it wants more information from the parties and could give a final ruling later this month.

Green Party officials have said if their candidates are blocked from the ballot, it would be a "death penalty" for the party.

Republicans as well as Democrats are involved in the fight.

The Texas Democratic Party sued to block the Green Party candidates, alleging the petition drive was political subterfuge waged by Republicans with the goal of pulling liberal votes away from Democratic nominee for governor Bill White.

White is running against Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who has been in office since late 2000 and is seeking a third full term.

Perry's former chief of staff and close confidant Mike Toomey, who is now a lobbyist, was identified in court testimony as a Republican operative behind efforts to help a Green Party petition drive.

A Perry campaign spokesman has denied Perry or the campaign are involved.

State District Judge John Dietz, who ruled in favor of the Democrats, noted in open court that he is a "lifelong" Democrat. The Supreme Court, which has the case now, is made up of nine Republicans.

The Green Party has already submitted its 92,000 signatures to the secretary of state.

Democrats allege that an outside group -- Missouri-based Take Initiative America -- made a $532,000 contribution to the Green Party to fund its signature-gathering efforts.

Green Party lawyers argued that the petition drive was a normal overhead and operating expense, which corporate money can legally be used for. But Dietz agreed with Democrats that the signature gathering was overtly political.