AUSTIN, Texas – Several Texas candidates who received what prosecutors say were illegal donations from former U.S. House majority leader Tom DeLay's political action committee testified Tuesday that they believed the funds were lawfully given.
All three candidates also said at DeLay's money laundering trial that they didn't know what role DeLay had in the PAC.
Todd Baxter, Dwayne Bohac and Jack Stick were among seven candidates for state representative who prosecutors say got a portion of $190,000 in corporate donations that the PAC is alleged to have funneled into 2002 GOP legislative races. Under Texas law, corporate money can't go directly to political campaigns.
Baxter, who won a race out of Austin, received $35,000. Bohac, who won a race in Houston, got $20,000. Stick, who won a race out of Austin, got $35,000.
"I assumed it was appropriate and (it was) OK for me to deposit and that's what I did," said Baxter, who is no longer a state lawmaker.
Dick DeGuerin, DeLay's lead attorney, has stressed throughout the trial that DeLay had little if any involvement in how the PAC was run.
Bohac, who is still in the Legislature, told jurors that although he and DeLay went to the same church in the Houston area, he didn't think he knew that DeLay was connected to the PAC.
"The first time I met Tom DeLay was out in the hall," said Stick, who is no longer a state lawmaker.
DeLay is charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The former Houston-area congressman denies wrongdoing. He faces up to life in prison if convicted. Testimony was to resume Wednesday.
Prosecutors allege the money Baxter, Bohac and Stick received was part of corporate donations collected by DeLay's PAC and then illegally channeled by DeLay and two associates — John Colyandro and Jim Ellis — through the Washington-based Republican National Committee.
Prosecutors say the money helped Republicans take control of the Texas House in 2002. That majority allowed the GOP to push through a Delay-engineered congressional redistricting plan that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004 and strengthened DeLay's political power, prosecutors said.
Earlier Tuesday, prosecutors focused on the fundraising problems DeLay's PAC had in the weeks leading up to the 2002 election.
Susan Lilly, a former fundraiser for the group, testified that PAC officials were unhappy with her efforts to raise money from individual donors. Last week, another PAC fundraiser also told jurors about the group's fundraising problems.
Prosecutors have suggested this lead the PAC to focus on corporate dollars — some of which authorities say ended up illegally going to Texas candidates.
DeGuerin has repeatedly told jurors corporate donations are a legal part of politics but that no corporate money was sent to Texas candidates. DeLay's attorneys have also said the charges against him were politically motivated, which prosecutors deny.
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 probe into DeLay's ties to Abramoff ended without any charges filed against DeLay.
Ellis and Colyandro, who face lesser charges, will be tried later.
DeLay, whose nickname was "the Hammer" for his heavy-handed style, now runs a consulting firm based in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land. In 2009, he appeared on ABC's hit television show "Dancing With the Stars."