Andrew Wheat

Taylor-Made Election Law


Taylor-Made Election Law BY ANDREW WHEAT e’s the fastest hired gun in the West. Never in the history of “Austin’s oldest profession” had a lobbyist fulfilled his contract instantaneously. Yet by the end of his March 3 announcement that he would lobby to “clarify” state election laws, Republican über-lawyer Andy Taylor already had done so. Taylor did not accomplish this feat by suggesting specific election-law reforms. On the contrary, he abandoned the candor of a couple months earlier, when he had vowed to repeal Texas’ prohibition on corporate electioneering. What clarified the issue this time was Taylor’s revelation that the clients paying his lobby fees are seven wealthy men who include some of Texas’ leading powerbrokers. Taylor’s clients gave almost $5.5 million to Texas PACs and state candidates in the 2004 election alone. Tellingly, most of Taylor’s clients have financial ties to the very 2002 scandal that seems to have prompted them to lobby for a “clarification” of state election law. Three of Taylor’s lobby clients gave a total of $210,000 to Texans for a Republican Majority PAC (TRMPAC). His clients subsequently gave another $391,000 to ally Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR), which has been subpoenaed in the TRMPAC probe. As a former counsel to Tom DeLay’s TRMPAC and as current counsel to the Texas Association of Business (TAB), Taylor has huge stakes in the criminal probe investigating whether these groups illegally spent $2.5 million in corporate money in 2002 to help Republicans take over the Texas House. How fitting that people who bankrolled these efforts now have hired Taylor to “clarify” laws that those groups flaunted. Taylor himself seemed to make this point by announcing his new clients during a recess in the civil trial of TRMPAC Treasurer Bill Ceverha. Taylor’s best-known new client is Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, who bankrolled attacks by Swiftboat Veterans for Truth on John Kerry’s Vietnam record. During the 2002 campaign Perry contributed $396,000 to the 21 Republican House candidates backed by TRMPAC and emerged as the top donor to TAB’s PAC. Although Perry is in a league of his own as Texas’ No. 1 individual donor, all of Taylor’s clients enjoy ties to TRMPAC or Tom DeLay. Fred Zeidman arguably owes his very job to yet another DeLay ethics scandal. Greenberg Traurig named Zeidman head of its embattled lobby practice last year after it fired DeLay protégé Jack Abramoff. Multiple investigations are examining what Abramoff did for the tens of millions of dollars that he billed to Native American tribes (see “K Street Croupiers,” TO, Nov. 19, 2004). Recently the National Journal reported evidence that Abramoff’s prior firm, Preston Ellis (a $25,000 TRMPAC donor), paid DeLay’s London hotel bills in 2002. This would violate U.S. House rules that bar lobbyists from paying travel costs for members of Congress. Taylor client Louis Beecherl is the long-time patron of TRMPAC Treasurer Bill Ceverha, who served on Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick’s transition team in 2002. The Travis County grand jury is investigating whether Craddick’s heavy TRMPAC involvement broke a state law governing speaker campaigns. Taylor client Vance Miller wrote Craddick’s name on his $10,000 check to TRMPAC. Miller would later say that Ceverha had “led me to believe that Tom Craddick was involved to elect more Republicans to the House.” The Observer previously reported the TRMPAC connections of Taylor client Charles McMahen, a retired vice chair of Compass Bancshares. TRMPAC-backed House candidates received $22,000 from the Compass Bancshares PAC four days after TRMPAC fundraisers solicited McMahen in 2002. Two developer clients of Taylor’s have helped DeLay pave the Houston area. Critics long opposed the DeLay-backed Grand Parkway highway as an environmentally destructive boondoggle that would enrich major landowners, including Taylor client Walter Mischer and former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier. In 2003 one-time Lanier housing advisor Michael Stevens headed Texans for True Mobility (TTM), a business-funded group that spent an estimated $1.5 million in a failed effort to derail a local light-rail initiative. Mischer’s son, Walter Mischer, Jr., tried to broker a deal between Stevens’ group and pro-rail Mayor Lee Brown. The deal, which fell short, sought to limit the amount of money that rail would divert from highways in order to squelch business opposition to the rail initiative. One rail opponent was DeLay, whose political committees later reported giving $30,000 to Texans for True Mobility. Last year Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal rejected a Houston Chronicle complaint alleging that the anti-rail group had to disclose its donors. Rosenthal, who took campaign contributions from TTM members, concluded that this secrecy was legal because its attack ads did not specifically tell people to vote against rail funding. Taylor uses this same rationale to defend TAB’s refusal to disclose which corporations sponsored the $2 million in attack ads that it ran in 2002. Stevens also sits on the campaign committee of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. After DeLay ordered Texas leaders to redraw Texas’ congressional districts, Abbott paid Taylor $772,399 in tax dollars to legally vet the new maps. Given these track records, Andy Taylor did not need to spell out the new election law that his clients favor. It’s known as “anything goes.” Andrew Wheat is research director of Austin-based Texans for Public Justice.