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Craig McDonald

With friends like these

Who needs to worry about legal bills?

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, facing federal and state securities fraud charges, is getting more than a little help from his friends to foot his growing legal bill.

The Republican accepted more than $329,000 earmarked for his legal defense from donors and “family friends,” according to a newly released financial disclosure statement.

The document, which Paxton filed to the Texas Ethics Commission on Friday, shows gifts from more than two dozen people or couples labeled “family friends.”

That included a $100,000 gift from James Webb, a CEO of a medical imaging firm who lives in Frisco and is a major Paxton donor. He and his living trust have donated more than $355,000 to Paxton’s campaign.

[…]

Paxton has said he is not tapping campaign contributions or taxpayer dollars. Texas law bars such practices, because his case does not involve his official duties.

In his filing Friday, Paxton categorized the defense fund money as a “gift.”

State bribery laws prohibit elected officials from receiving gifts from people or entities subject to their authority, and as attorney general, Paxton’s could extend broadly. Seeking to circumvent those barriers, Paxton’s filing cited an “independent relationship” exception. That allows gifts from family members and those “independent” of an office holder’s “official status.”

You can see a copy of the disclosure form here. The key thing to note is that this is for activity through December 31, 2015, so however much it shows being given to Paxton for legal fees, it only covers last year. For sure, he has received plenty more such “gifts” since then. Which he surely needs, and will continue to need for the foreseeable future, since he’s spending boatloads on legal fees. Must be nice to have so many loaded and loyal friends.

The Chron notes another dimension to this.

Craig McDonald, executive director of the left-leaning watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, said Paxton’s legal defense fundraising points out a weakness in the state’s ethics laws.

“It’s a huge loophole in the law that needs to be closed,” said McDonald whose group advocates for a gift ban for state officials. “Where does Paxton’s circle of independent relationships end?”

State law currently prohibits gifts for the governor, lieutenant governor and legislators —as well as members of their staffs — but that prohibition does not apply to the attorney general’s office. An employee at a regulatory agency like the attorney general’s office is forbidden from asking for, accepting or agreeing to accept a gift only if the official knows the giver is subject to the agency’s authority.

Yet, all of Texas’ elected state officials can accept “a gift or other benefit conferred on account of kinship or a personal, professional, or business relationship independent of the official status of the recipient.”

The same exemption allowed for Rick Perry to amass a catalog of freebies during his time as Texas governor, ranging from Stetson hats to hunting trips. As the state’s former attorney general, Gov. Greg Abbott also reported receiving a long list of gifts from donors and friends, including a new gun, football tickets and free travel and lodging for his family.

The Legislature allows that loophole, and the Legislature could plug it if it wanted to. I’m just saying.

Turner’s public agency work

A lot of the attacks in the Mayoral campaign so far have been aimed at Adrian Garcia, in part to knock him out of second place where he is perceived to be, and in part because there’s some real material to use. There has been some sniping between Costello and King, as they fish in the same ponds for voters, and some other stuff here and there, but not much as yet against the perceived and poll-supported frontrunner Sylvester Turner. Until now, anyway.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Two of Sylvester Turner’s mayoral rivals are criticizing the longtime lawmaker for reaping thousands of dollars in legal and land title work for public agencies, questioning the ethics of the sometimes lucrative arrangements while he holds elective office.

It is legal for Texas lawmakers, who serve part time and earn $7,200 a year plus $190 per day of legislative session, to do work for local government entities.

Two of Turner’s rivals in the race to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker – former City Attorney Ben Hall and former Congressman Chris Bell – said the practice appears improper when it involves fees earned from entities over which he may wield authority as a state legislator.

“It may not be illegal, but it sure has the appearance of impropriety, especially given the timing in some of the instances,” said Hall, who last week called for an end to “pay-to-play” politics.

Both Hall and Bell stand to gain votes from Turner, who has positioned himself as an establishment candidate and has led or tied for the lead in recent polls.

Turner defended his work, saying it is neither illegal nor unethical for lawmakers to receive public business while in office.

“I think my track record speaks for itself,” he said. “When I believe people have not been performing up to par, regardless of the relationship – business relationship – that they may have had with my firm, I have not been hesitant in holding people accountable and responsible.”

Hall and Bell have cited $144,000 that Turner’s land title company, American Title, earned in 2014 on a Houston Independent School District real estate deal. Hall also has questioned what he says was more than $3 million Turner’s companies received in payments from Houston’s housing department for professional services.

“We have certain ethical standards that we need to abide by, and first and foremost is staying away from conflicts of interest,” Bell said.

In 2012, Turner initially criticized HISD’s $1.9 billion bond plan, saying he was worried it would not do enough to encourage students to attend neighborhood campuses. He ultimately endorsed the issue, which passed with 69 percent of the vote.

Two years later, his title company earned $144,000 on an HISD real estate transaction.

[…]

Tom “Smitty” Smith of the Austin-based advocacy group Public Citizen Texas said it is not uncommon for lawyer legislators to have contracts with one or more government agencies.

“A lot of the work – of legal work in this state – has to do with municipal or county or district governments of various kinds,” Smith said. “The gray area comes in the choice of that legislator’s law firm. Is it an open bidding process? Or is it just simply a gimme?”

Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, another Austin advocacy group, said the practice comes with potential conflicts.

“Are the local governments hiring a particular lawmaker because that lawmaker has jurisdiction over issues that concern the local government?” McDonald asked. “That’s the basic issue. That’s the basic conflict.”

Let’s get one thing cleared up right off: Any time Ben Hall makes an allegation about any other candidate, the first question he should be asked is “So, have you paid your property taxes yet?” With that out of the way, there’s not much to this story. One can certainly argue that this kind of paid advocacy ought to be illegal, or at least more tightly regulated, and I would not disagree. But given that it is legal, this story is basically about nothing. There’s no allegation of wrongdoing on Turner’s part – the activity is legal, the fees he charged were in the normal range, and he did the work he was paid to do. It was all properly disclosed. The two professional ethics watchdogs had only the perfunctory “could cause a conflict” admonishment for it. People may not know about it, though this was hardly a secret, and they may not care for it once they do know it, which is all fair. It’s well suited for a negative mailer, but unless there’s something else out there, it’s not going to generate more than one story.

Paxton investigation put off till after the election

I can’t really argue with this.

Sen. Ken Paxton

The Travis County District Attorney’s Office will not pursue legal action against attorney general candidate state Sen. Ken Paxton until after the election, if at all, because of an internal policy aimed at preventing politically motivated investigations in campaign season.

The postponed timeline could be problematic for Paxton, a Republican from McKinney, regarded as the race’s front-runner. If the district attorney launches criminal proceedings after November, Paxton potentially could face a grand jury investigation in his first few months as a statewide elected official.

Gregg Cox, head of the Travis County District Attorney Office’s Public Integrity Unit that investigates cases of public corruption, would not address Paxton’s case, but said the policy is long-standing.

“That’s been the policy for many, many years and we’ve always pretty much adhered to it,” Cox said. “We get so many complaints, especially around election time.”

[…]

On Wednesday, [Democratic AG candidate Sam] Houston called again for Paxton to address the issue with the public – either in a press conference or debate – before the election.

“I am not sure why there has been no action in investigating Mr. Paxton, but justice should never be delayed,” said Houston, a Houston lawyer and former candidate for the Texas Supreme Court. “He is running for office and refuses to answer all questions at all. How can we expect him to defend Texas if he can’t defend himself?”

Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDonald said he did not think the policy was applicable to Paxton’s case.

“In our mind, compelling circumstances means an election in this case. He’s running to be the top law enforcement officer of this state and if he’s broken the law, people need to know before November,” said McDonald, who added the TPJ does not align itself with Houston.

“We’re disappointed that the policy is working against a Ken Paxton investigation. But, we understand that the policy is appropriate in other circumstances.”

It would have been better to get an answer to this question before the election, but I can totally see where the Public Integrity Unit is coming from. They would rather not get caught in a political crossfire, and I can’t blame them for it. Ultimately, what matters is that we get an answer one way or another. Ken Paxton, if he has any capacity for self awareness, knows if he’s truly in trouble or not, and if he had any honor and knew he was headed for a fall he’d do the right thing and withdraw from the race. Needless to say, I don’t expect him to do that. The Trib has more.

More about TPJ

The Chron profiles Texans for Public Justice, the group that filed the complaint that led to Rick Perry’s indictments.

[Craig] McDonald’s Texans for Public Justice, which operates out of a small office west of the University of Texas-Austin campus and currently has less than $1,000 in the bank, is known as the state’s preeminent group for analyzing campaign donations, building lobbyist databases and filing ethical complaints. It is at least partially responsible for the downfalls of former state Rep. Gabi Canales, former state Board of Education member Rene Nuñez and, most notably, former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

The only thing unusual about the two-page Perry complaint, McDonald said, was how long it took him and longtime colleague Andrew Wheat to put it together: just two days.

That, and the reaction.

Since the indictment was handed up Aug. 15, Texans for Public Justice has received dozens of interview requests and hundreds of expletive-filled letters, calls and emails, 10 times what followed DeLay’s 2005 indictment, McDonald said.

The group has played no role in the case since filing the complaint, but it nonetheless has become a part of the story as Perry has waged an aggressive campaign to cast the indictment as politically motivated.

[…]

Most of the group’s most high-profile targets have been Republicans, including DeLay, Perry and Ken Paxton, the current GOP nominee for attorney general, who last month became the subject of a TPJ complaint over his failure to register as an investment adviser as required by law.

Texans for Public Justice has gone after Democrats too.

One of the group’s earliest efforts targeted Canales, a Corpus Christi Democrat, for allegedly selling her power as a legislator to delay lawsuits. Canales lost her 2004 re-election bid, and the Legislature passed a law requiring all members to disclose when they used legislative continuances during legal proceedings.

Two other Democrats, Nuñez and fellow state Board of Education member Rick Agosto, were targeted in 2009 for not reporting gifts from a firm with business before the board. Nuñez was fined and lost his re-election bid.

National campaign-finance watchdog Ellen Miller said the group likely would target more Democrats if there were more of them in power.

“Texans for Public Justice has a national prominence and recognition for their very active state-based work around issues having to do with money, power and politics,” said Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, which donated $1,200 to the Texas group in 2012.

So there you have it. Elect more Democrats, including some statewide, and you’ll see more of them get into trouble. It’s a lot harder to abuse power when you don’t have it.

Anyway. This story is a lot like the Trib story from last week, and undoubtedly like the others that have been written as well. I hope that in addition to all the attention they’re getting, a few people have also made contributions to TPJ so they can keep doing what they’re doing. If you want to be one of those people, see below the fold for the text of a fundraising email they sent out, with a donation link included. Someone has to do what TPJ does, and they’ve shown they’re pretty good at it.

(more…)

Possibly the last thing I’m going to say about the Perry indictment for now

Certainly not the last thing I’ll ever say, since there’s a vast amount of the story left to be told, and I reserve the right to change my mind. But for now, since the indictment came down on Friday there’s been very little actual news. There’s been the over-the-top response from Perry’s legal team, there’s been the predictable tribal responses, there’s been a crap-ton of woefully ignorant pontificating from mostly non-Texas writers, but not much else worth talking about. So, until there is a new development, I’m going to leave with these two thoughts.

This Trib story about Texans for Public Justice, the group that filed the complaint that led to the indictment, contains a little tidbit of information that even I hadn’t realized but which ought to be a required inclusion in everything anybody writes about this saga from here on out.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

TPJ didn’t plan to delve into the complex game of political chicken going on between Perry and Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg near the end of last year’s legislative session. Lehmberg had been immersed in a political scandal since April, when a video of her aggressive behavior during her drunken driving arrest drew national attention. TPJ had stayed out of the drama until June 10, when [TPJ Director Craig] McDonald read in the Austin-American Statesman that Perry was threatening to veto the state’s funding of the Public Integrity Unit, housed in the Travis County DA’s office, unless Lehmberg resigned. Perry has said he only acted within the authority he has under the state Constitution.

“We decided [to get involved] that Tuesday morning,” McDonald said. “I said to Andrew [Wheat, TPJ research director], ‘This has got to be illegal. The governor can’t threaten the district attorney to do something that is out of his power. She doesn’t work for him. Never has.’”

Soon after, TPJ filed its complaint against Perry, hours before Perry vetoed the PIU’s $7.5 million budget.

Perry and his legal team have made his right as governor to veto state funding, and Lehmberg’s behavior during her drunken driving arrest, as central to the indictment. Various national political reporters and pundits have dismissed the indictment as overreaching or politically motivated, often pointing, like Perry, to a governor’s right to use his veto power.

McDonald said those critics are missing a crucial point: TPJ’s original complaint was filed before Perry implemented his veto because the veto is irrelevant.

“The threats are the issue, and I think that’s what the grand jury listened to,” McDonald said. “The only role the veto played and the only reason it’s relevant is that’s the club he held over his head to try to get her to leave her job. The veto is a side player to this. It’s not the subject of the charges.”

Emphasis mine. Did we all catch that? The complaint was filed before the veto was made. Let me repeat that, with formatting and an active voice construction: TPJ filed their complaint before Rick Perry vetoed the Public Integrity Unit funds. It wasn’t about the veto, it was about the threat, the coercion, of a duly elected public official that did not answer to Rick Perry. Anyone who opines about this in any fashion and doesn’t grasp that fact has no frigging idea what they’re talking about and should be ignored.

Another test for ignorance by those who bloviate about this case, in particular those who go on about Rosemary Lehmberg’s DUI arrest and of course it was sensible for Rick Perry to want a drunk DA to step down: Rosemary Lehmberg was the third District Attorney in Texas to be arrested for drunk driving during Rick Perry’s time as Governor. She was the first such DA to come under any pressure from Rick Perry about it. She was also the first such DA to be a Democrat. And yet it’s Rick Perry who’s the victim of a partisan vendetta, by a non-partisan special prosecutor appointed by a Republican judge who was appointed to hear the case by another Republican judge.

Oh, and one more thing, from Lisa Falkenberg:

In Harris County and other Texas jurisdictions where judges use the “pick-a-pal” system to empanel grand jurors, bias and corruption are natural byproducts. The judge picks a pal, called a “commissioner,” to go out and find some more pals to serve on a grand jury and supposedly mete out justice. The process, as I’ve written, has been outlawed in the federal system, and is still only used in Texas and California.

But it wasn’t used in this case.

[judge Bert] Richardson didn’t ask a buddy to empanel the grand jurors. The members were randomly selected from Travis County jurors who answered a summons – a similar process to the one used to select regular trial juries.

See this story as well. Grand juries are the prosecutors’ show, and we all know what they say about them. But still, a jury of ordinary citizens thought there was sufficient evidence of a crime to return two indictments. Mike McCrum didn’t indict Rick Perry, the grand jurors did.

Now it’s certainly possible for an informed observer to examine the indictments and think they’re a stretch. We really have never seen anything like this before, and generally speaking our laws about official misconduct have to do with money and/or influence in fairly direct ways. It’s fair to say that the laws Perry is accused of breaking weren’t really written with this situation in mind, probably because no one ever imagined this sort of situation might happen. That doesn’t mean that these laws don’t apply or that a fair jury couldn’t find Rick Perry guilty. It does mean that the appeals courts are someday going to perform fine surgery on some legal hairs, and one way or another we’ll have a clearer understanding of what these laws do mean, at least based on this experience.

But once we start down that path, we are – to borrow a legal phrase we all know from “Law and Order” – assuming facts not in evidence. We don’t know what Mike McCrum’s case is yet. We’ve heard plenty from Rick Perry and his high-priced legal team – the best lawyers the taxpayers can provide for him – and from his hackish sycophants in the national press. What have we heard from Mike McCrum, other than the indictment itself? Not much.

McCrum, asked in an interview earlier Monday about criticism that the case is weak, calmly defended it.

“The case is going to bear itself out in the long run, both from a legal standpoint and from a factual standpoint,” he said.

I’ll say it again: We just don’t know what cards Mike McCrum is holding. It’s certainly possible that he’s gone off on a wild hunt against Rick Perry for some reason. It’s possible he’s tendentiously misreading the law in an attempt for, I don’t know, fame and glory and a lifetime of being a legal expert on CNN or something. It’s possible he’s shooting from the hip and didn’t really think through how his actions would be scrutinized by criminal defense attorneys. There’s nothing in his history to suggest these things are true, but I don’t know Mike McCrum and I have no idea what’s in his head right now. What I do know is that we don’t know what his case will look like once it’s all been laid out in a courtroom. Maybe we’ll look back someday and say “Holy moly that was a load of crap, what in the world was Mike McCrum thinking?”, maybe we’ll say “That was a strong case but ultimately the jury/the Court of Criminal Appeals/SCOTUS didn’t buy it”, or maybe we’ll say “Where were you when Rick Perry was hauled off to the slammer?”. I for one am not making any predictions. And until there’s something new to talk about, I’m going to let it rest.

Again with judicial elections

Here we go again.

Texas is one of seven states that holds partisan elections for judges, a practice that one watchdog group says can lead to conflicts of interest.

“We have a judiciary at the highest level, the Texas Supreme Court, that gets 40 to 50 percent of its campaign money from the very people who are practicing before that court,” said Craig McDonald, head of Texans for Public Justice, a follow-the-money political watchdog.

He thinks a fix is pretty easy: Move to an appointed judiciary. And he’s not alone. Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Jefferson Wallace said as much in his State of the Judiciary speech before the Legislature in 2011.

“A justice system built on some notion of Democratic judging or Republican judging is a system that cannot be trusted,” Wallace told lawmakers.

He argued that appointing the judiciary would keep judges from bending to political winds.

“I would eliminate straight-ticket voting that allows judges to be swept from the bench, not for poor work, not for bad ethics, not for bad temperament, not even for controversial but courageous decisions — but purely because of party affiliation,” he said.

McDonald said the biggest problem with party affiliation is that it can draw judges into the same ideological battles fought by candidates seeking legislative office.

“Our judges act as if they’re politicians,” he said. “They run on partisan ballots, they raise money, they get elected on partisan ballots. They’re more politicians then they are judges in many respects.”

I’ve said this multiple times, so I’ll try to keep this brief. I believe it is naive in the extreme to think that you can de-politicize the process of selecting judges. If you go to a gubernatorial appointment system, it means that judicial wannabees will spend their time sucking up to whoever is Governor. Under this Governor, that would mean every judge would be a federal-government-hating Republican. Even with a more even-handed Governor, if the appointment system comes along with “nonpartisan” retention elections, do you really believe that players like Texans for Lawsuit Reform will sit idly by? Of course they won’t. About the only difference I can see is that fewer people would be casting the ballots. How exactly is this an improvement?

I’m not saying the current system we have is best, just that every time another one of these stories about how appointing judges would lead to a golden era of puppies and sunshine appears no one ever bothers to bring these points up. To me, this debate is roughly equivalent to the debate over term limits. Both are presented as solutions to the problem of how money influences elections, but to me they’re at best workarounds and at worst admissions of defeat. If the problem is with the influence of money on elections, then the solution is to reform how elections are financed. How we get there in the era of Citizens United is, I freely admit, a daunting challenge. Maybe a kludgey workaround is the best approximation of a solution we can achieve. If that’s the case, then let’s at least be honest about it.

More on the new city ethics code

Not everyone likes the city’s new ethics regulations.

“Instead of enforcing ethics standards, all of these things seem to license unethical behavior,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for government watchdog Public Citizen in Washington, D.C. The exceptions to the city’s new gift policy “license unlimited gifts and unlimited travel, and that is exactly what codes like this are supposed to prevent. This is very weak. There are some states that have no gift rules, and this pretty much rivals that type of standard.”

There are other exemptions to the rule, including if the gift is worth less than $50 and if it comes from a relative or someone with whom the elected official has a regular social acquaintance.

Theoretically, he said, that could mean a lobbyist could pay for numerous meals as long as they were under $50, or could provide lavish gifts by saying they were friends.

[…]

“The state standard, when it comes to gifts, is much too lenient,” said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a non-partisan ethics watchdog in Austin. “An ethics policy that allows an individual or a business to give an extravagant gift of travel or entertainment kind of defeats the whole purpose of having an ethical wall.”

Feldman defended the law as one that will allow significantly stronger prosecutorial tools for elected city officials who cross the line.

And, he pointed out, they still are required by the Texas Ethics Commission to disclose any gifts they receive annually.

“We had no intention to prosecute someone for an offense under the ordinance that would not be an offense under state law,” he said.

He added that the most significant problem with most ethics rules is one of enforcement. Because he has promised to prosecute violators of these restrictions in municipal court, he said the revisions are sufficient.

“I hope I’ve made it clear to everyone that we fully intend to enforce this,” he said.

Certainly, a big part of the problem with the Texas Ethics Commission is lax enforcement, and miniscule punishments. (Often-unclear requirements that are frequently violated inadvertently is another issue, but one that gets less attention than the others.) If the city really is serious about enforcement, then that should make a big difference. As for Holman and McDonald’s complaints about what isn’t in the code, that is a concern, but if the voters cared enough to vote out people who acted egregiously then there’d be less of that behavior. Judging from state elections, voters don’t do that very often. That’s not an argument against changing the code in the way that Holman and McDonald advocate, but it is a reason why you don’t see much of a push for it beyond folks like them.

Will the Lege change the rules about corporate campaign contributions?

I think the answer to that question is probably “No”, but given the Citizens United ruling and the effect it had in the 2010 election, one cannot rule it out.

Immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, the Texas Ethics Commission, acting within state law, issued rules for individual corporations or unions to disclose their spending to elect or defeat candidates. But the commission was silent on whether groups or associations have to disclose their donors and left that issue to the Texas Legislature, which will return Jan. 11.

Rep. Todd Smith , a Euless Republican and chairman of the House Elections Committee, favors more transparency if the Legislature can agree on how to do it.

He questioned whether the new reporting requirement at the Ethics Commission gives the public a true picture of what happens during elections.

“My best sense is, it may be impossible to ensure people actually know who’s paying for a campaign,” Smith said. “We may have given citizens a false impression that they know who is spending money.”

[…]

Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, an organization that monitors campaign spending in Texas, opposes legalizing corporate donations to campaigns.

He argued that corporate donations would skew a campaign finance system already dominated by wealthy individuals.

State lawmakers may be tempted to avoid the issue altogether.

To begin with, the surge in outside spending in federal elections was driven in large part because federal election law limits donations to candidates. Those limits on individuals and political action committees motivated much of the outside spending. Other than some judicial campaigns, Texas has no limits on campaign donations.

“When you can give the governor $500,000 out of your pocket, why create a front group?” McDonald asked.

Second, changing the campaign finance law is controversial.

Smith, who has written legislation for more disclosure of political spending in the past, said there is always a backlash against more transparency.

“There are many special interests that don’t want to disclose,” he said.

Austin political consultant Bill Miller said there’s little momentum for major changes in the Texas campaign finance system.

“Outside of some isolated do-gooder groups, I don’t see anyone advocating for change,” he said. “The system works quite well for people who are incumbents.”

Those last three quotes, from McDonald, Smith, and Miller, sum it up nicely. And despite the example cited in the story of the Texas Association of Business and the scars it now bears from trying to act like a PAC while maintaining nonprofit status, the fact is that you can do an awful lot as a nonprofit. We remember TAB’s experience because it’s so unusual, but the truth is that if Bill Hammond had kept his pie hole shut after the 2002 election, instead of bragging to the nearest reporter about “blowing the doors off”, it’s likely nothing would have happened to them. Finally, there’s not really all that much holding back corporations from donating to PACs as they see fit. How often does doing so cause either the donor or its recipients all that much grief? There’s just not enough attention that gets paid to it, so the risks are pretty small.

On a related note, Citizens United did not affect Tom DeLay and his felony conviction, as the ruling did not address the Texas under which DeLay got zapped. However, it may come up in a future appeal, which Team DeLay is clearly counting on. It’d be nice if Congress pre-empted that by passing legislation to address the shortfalls that SCOTUS identified in the CU ruling, but I don’t see that happening with the current crop in DC.

Opening arguments at the DeLay trial

It’s a little weird that the Tom DeLay trial could be something other than the top news story, isn’t it?

The political money laundering trial of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay opened Monday with the Sugar Land Republican defiantly declaring his innocence.

After prosecutors read the two-count conspiracy and money laundering indictment against DeLay, he turned to the jury and in a loud, confident voice said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am not guilty.”

[…]

Prosecutor Beverly Mathews said the money laundering was part of a larger scheme to increase DeLay’s power in Washington, D.C.

DeLay’s defense team claims the money exchange was a legal swap so the RNC could use the corporate money in states where it is legal while giving money legally raised from individuals to the Texas candidates.

Defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin told the jury there was no crime and it should not convict DeLay just because he was politically successful.

I’ve always felt that it will be easier to convict DeLay’s minions, whose questionable actions are more clearly documented, than DeLay himself. I’m not sure that the evidence that is publicly known is sufficient to convict him, and my long-held theory that co-defendant Warren RoBold might have gotten a secret deal to testify for the prosecution was shot down. I don’t know what else there might be. But it will be fun to watch, and who knows what might come out in the testimony.

Testimony began with Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice and Fred Lewis, a lawyer, telling why they filed separate criminal complaints with the district attorney against Texans for Republicans Majority.

Both said they learned of the corporate money spent by the Texas committee, including the $190,000, from Internal Revenue Service reports. DeGuerin objected repeatedly during the testimony to keep the witnesses from offering their conclusions about the state’s campaign finance laws. By midafternoon, DeGuerin had moved for a mistrial based on one answer. Judge Pat Priest declined.

During cross-examination, Lewis testified that the Texas political committee spent corporate money on polling, political consultants, political fundraisers and voting lists — all activities that the Texas Ethics Commission advised against.

When DeGuerin objected, the judge said, “You asked the question.”

Former state Rep. Bill Ceverha, R-Dallas, served as treasurer of the Texas committee. He testified that the advisory board had a “general discussion” about sending corporate money to the national committee, which would then donate money to Texas candidates. He added, “This was a practice done for decades.”

Testimony is scheduled to resume today, and the trial is expected to last at least three weeks. Both sides have subpoenaed a long list of Texas political leaders, Washington lobbyists and representatives of the corporations that financed DeLay’s political committee.

Don’t know how many of them will actually make it to the stand, but I hope they all do. Let’s get it all on the record and see where the chips fall.