News Briefs 

Courage asks Smith to step down

District 21 challenger John Courage has asked opponent U.S. Representative Lamar Smith to resign from the House Ethics Committee in light of contributions Smith made to Tom DeLay’s Legal Defense Fund.

Courage is seeking the U.S. House seat in the 2006 election.

According to federal election documents, the campaign committee Texans for Lamar Smith has poured $10,000 into DeLay’s fund since 2001. Smith is the treasurer of the committee, which lists its address as 5170 Broadway, Suite 26.

Courage said he e-mailed and faxed Smith a letter last week asking him to step down, but has not heard back from the congressman. “It is in the best interest of the integrity of the House that you resign and allow another to be appointed in your place,” the letter reads. “That will enable the Ethics Committee to conduct a vigorous and complete investigation of any ethics charges brought against Mr. DeLay.”

Smith has offered to recuse himself from Ethics-committee actions regarding DeLay. Smith’s statement, e-mailed to the Current reads, “Before Mr. Courage makes any more illogical demands, he should look up what it means to recuse yourself from a matter. It means to disqualify yourself from participation in a decision. As I publicly stated more than five months ago, I will not be involved in any matter that may come before the committee concerning Mr. DeLay.”

That gesture doesn’t sufficiently address Smith’s conflict of interest, Courage said. “He still holds a seat on the Ethics Committee, which means someone else is not able to make a judgment. That’s one less person to vote or ask questions. By staying, he’s helping DeLay.”

Smith is one of three House members who replaced fellow Republicans on the Ethics Committee all of whom voted to admonish DeLay three times last year.

Smith’s critics point out that the congressman also spoke at a 2002 fundraiser for DeLay’s political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, which, according to recent grand-jury indictments, allegedly funneled money from corporate contributors to the Republican National and State Election committees and then back to Texas state legislative candidates. Texas law prohibits corporate contributions from being used for election campaigns; contributions can be used for administrative expenses.

- Lisa Sorg

The court of public opinion

The lawsuit’s not over until the judge and jury sing, but blow-by-blow press coverage can create the illusion that a case’s outcome is in the bag. In the matter of the State of Texas v. Tom DeLay, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle’s prosecution of the House Republican for allegedly funneling corporate donations to state candidates in the 2002 elections, we have heard that Earle went “grand-jury shopping,” that the first indictment was flawed, and that the prosecution lacks a key document.

click to enlarge news-deguerin_220jpg
DeLay lead defense attorney Dick DeGuerin.
All of these counter charges have a common denominator: They first were made by DeLay’s near-legendary defense attorney Dick DeGuerin, a well-respected courtroom combatant even before he defended real-estate heir Robert Durst on murder charges in 2003. Durst’s acquittal despite his factually supported confession was seen as confirmation by many that DeGuerin’s name belongs on the same list as late O.J. Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran.

None of DeGuerin’s counter charges are at this point substantiated, but the press is the perfect vehicle to try the case in the venue DeLay may see as most critical: the court of public opinion. “There is a real desire by your client in `these` circumstances to want to say something in the press and make it clear that you’re really a good guy,” says UT-Austin law professor Steve Bickerstaff, who is writing a book on the successful civil case against Texans for a Republican Majority.

Bickerstaff agrees that the first indictment may be “critically” flawed. (DeGuerin alleges that the 1905 law DeLay is accused of violating didn’t apply to election contributions until 2003, but the lawmaker who sponsored the 2003 bill told the Associated Press, “I wanted to clarify the law, but I did not contemplate that I was changing it.”) Yet he thinks that in the rush to counter the charges publicly, DeGuerin also made a misstep. “I think the motion to quash was telegraphed, and the basis of that was, and certainly the DA responded.” says Bickerstaff.

DeLay’s defense may also be tainted by a Federal Election Commission audit released October 13 that shows TRMPAC’s national cousin, Americans for a Republican Majority, spent almost $100,000 in corporate money in five congressional races.

Like Earle, DeGuerin is not resting on his opening moves; he has subpoenaed the DA to try to discover the details of the grand-jury deliberations and his team is doing its best to convince the public that Earle never had a case to begin with. But, Bickerstaff warns, that can be a serious mistake. “Whether it’s in civil or criminal litigation, you don’t win the lawsuit by what you do in the public, and you may lose because in many instances what’s said ends up coming back and hurting your case.”

- Elaine Wolff

Wentworth: It wasn’t me

An error in an e-mail newsletter by political action committee the South Texas Republicans inadvertently placed State Senator Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) at the center of a maelstrom about Bexar County Democrats and the gay marriage amendment.

On its website earlier this month, the Bexar County Democratic Party posted a notice for voter registrars or volunteers to register Democratic hurricane evacuees for the November 8 election, which includes the proposed anti-gay marriage amendment. “We just wanted people to have the right to vote,” said Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Rudy Casias. “We aren’t telling them to vote for or against Proposition 2.”

Local Dems then alleged Wentworth, in response to the Dems’ voter outreach, sent an e-mail to his Republican constituents on a distribution list, which read in part, “Our Bexar County Democrats have no shame. It is an outrage that the party of President Harry Truman is using these hurricane victims to further their political goals. We encourage you to write your city, state, and federal officials about this brazen and tacky behavior in San Antonio, Texas. It is time to step up and Take a Stand’.”

In turn, Bexar County Democrats sent an e-mail missive of their own, condemning Wentworth and his comments.

But the comments were that of the San Antonio-based South Texas Republicans, not Wentworth.

Joe Solis said his PAC’s newsletter is the source of the e-mail and that it was sent with an old subject line from an event featuring Wentworth, which led the Dems to believe the senator was the source.

Wentworth denied he had anything to do with the e-mail. “I had absolutely no knowledge of the e-mail,” he told the Current, “and I don’t have a distribution list.” Nor, Wentworth said, did he forward the contents of South Texas Republicans’ e-newsletter to anyone, although he did see it.

Casias said he did’nt see the PAC’s original e-mail and that it was sent to him by Mary Cole, a volunteer with the Bexar County Democratic Party. On October 17, Cole sent a correction to party members and an apology to Wentworth. The PAC sent a retraction also.

- Lisa Sorg



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