AUSTIN, Texas – Prosecutors in Tom DeLay's money laundering trial implied to jurors on Thursday that the former House majority leader's political action committee became desperate for donations and focused its efforts on getting corporate dollars, some of which authorities say ended up illegally going to Texas candidates.
DeLay, charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering, is being accused of using his PAC to illegally funnel $190,000 in corporate donations into Texas legislative races eight years ago. DeLay, who faces up to life in prison if convicted, has denied any wrongdoing.
While questioning Warren Robold, the PAC's fundraiser, prosecutors showed jurors a series of e-mails which indicated that in the weeks leading up to the 2002 elections in Texas, the political group was having great difficulty raising money from individuals donors, the only type of funds that could be given to candidates under Texas law.
In an Aug. 6, 2002 e-mail, John Colyandro, who was the PAC's executive director, wrote to Robold that, "It has become critical now that we bring dollars now."
Other e-mails and documents seemed to show the PAC was focusing more on corporate donations.
"Any news? I need the dollars desperately. Sorry to sound so needy," Colyandro wrote to Robold in a Sept. 16, 2002 e-mail, referencing corporate donations. Robold's job was getting corporate dollars.
"Was there a goal on you to bring more money, more money?" prosecutor Beverly Mathews asked Robold.
"Yes, that was a common theme," Robold responded.
Mathews showed jurors a copy of an announcement for a PAC fundraiser that was held on Aug. 19, 2002 in Houston, with DeLay as the "special guest."
"Your support today will go directly to help Republican candidates in Texas successfully run and win their campaigns," the announcement said.
Mathews told jurors the announcement also stated that corporate checks would be accepted at the event.
Prosecutors allege DeLay and two associates — Colyandro and Jim Ellis — illegally channeled the $190,000 in corporate money collected by DeLay's Texas PAC, through the Washington-based Republican National Committee. Under Texas law, corporate money cannot be directly used for political campaigns.
The money helped Republicans take control of the Texas House in 2002, prosecutors said. That majority allowed the GOP to push through a congressional redistricting plan engineered by DeLay that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004 and strengthened DeLay's political stature, prosecutors said.
Robold had been indicted on charges of accepting illegal corporate contributions in connection with the alleged scheme.
When questioned by DeLay's lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, Robold told jurors the charges were dismissed earlier this year and he is not testifying as part of any agreement.
"I did nothing wrong," Robold told jurors.
Neither Robold nor the nine witnesses who have previously testified for prosecutors have directly tied DeLay to the alleged scheme. DeGuerin has said DeLay had little involvement in running the group.
Prosecutors deny defense claims that the charges are politically motivated by former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat who brought the original case but has since retired.
DeLay's defense team also worried about the trial being held in Austin — the most Democratic city in one of the most Republican states. DeLay has been pressing for a trial since he was indicted five years ago, but the case was slowed by appeals of pretrial rulings.
The criminal charges in Texas, as well as a separate federal investigation of DeLay's ties to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, ended his 22-year political career representing suburban Houston. The Justice Department ended its federal investigation into DeLay's ties to Abramoff without filing any charges against DeLay.
Ellis and Colyandro, who face lesser charges, will be tried later.
DeLay, whose nickname was "the Hammer" for his heavy-handed style, has been mostly out of public view since resigning from Congress, except for an appearance on ABC's hit television show "Dancing With the Stars." He now runs a consulting firm based in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land.