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TAB, continued from page 19 average of 13 percent. The department determined that rates were about $510 million too high. Consumer advocates believe this is a lowball figure. They also doubt whether the companies who are appealing the decision will ever reduce their rates by the mandated figure. Even with the rollbacks, the Center for Economic Justice estimates that, since 2001, the insurance industry will have managed to sock Texas consumers for $1.3 billion. s hortly after the election, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle started to hear stories of the TAB campaign. Austin American Statesman reporter Laylan Copelin was the first to reveal many of the details about the TAB and TRM’s election activities. Earle’s investigation has seemed at times to track the veteran newsman’s stories. What Earle heard and read worried him. The TAB effort appeared to cross the line that divides genuine efforts to educate voters from partisan political attacks funded with secret corporate money. After Hammond boasted of the TAB’s efforts in a post-election press release, Earle says he decided the allegations against the TAB were worth looking into. “You can’t break the law and brag about it,” he has said. In response to Earle’s tenacious pursuit of the truth behind the TAB, Republicans have blasted the Democratic prosecutor for being on a witch hunt to undo an election his party lost handily. On Jan. 16, 2003, the Travis County grand jury subpoenaed documents including ones that would identify the corporate donors to the TAB’s mailer campaign. The grand jury also subpoenaed Hammond and the TAB contractor Chuck McDonald to testify. At first, Andy Taylor, the TAB attorney and spokesman, promised to cooperate with the inquiry. But when someone leaked news of the subpoenas, Taylor used it as an excuse to call into question the entire investigation. The TAB refused to release any of the subpoenaed documents. Hammond declined to testify before the grand jury. Taylor and Hammond maintain that the TAB’S mailers adhered to the U.S. Supreme Court’s definition of “issue ads.” That, according to Taylor, makes the ads legal free speech which, unlike electioneering, the government has no right to regulate. Taylor also contends that forcing the TAB to disclose its donor list constitutes an unconstitutional infringement on the corporate donors’ First Amendment rights. He has compared the TAB’S effort to protect its donor list to the NAACP’s fight to keep its membership list secret in 1950s Alabama. “The point we were trying to make is that even though in theory grand jury proceedings are secret, in practice they’re not,” Taylor says. “So we felt like our donors’ anonymity would be lost through cooperating with the grand jury.” Taylor’s legal strategy has been a scattershot approach. In the eight months since the original subpoenas, he has filed about a dozen motions and asked five different courts to squash the grand jury investigation. Judges will almost never halt a grand jury investigation, and Taylor has lost every appeal. One witness to testify before the grand jury was John Colyandro, former executive director of TRM. His appearance stirred speculation that Earle is also investigating TRM. The district attorney’s office would not comment, but DeLay aide Jim Ellis denies the group is under investigation. Outside of the courtroom,Taylor and Earle have sparred through the media. In dueling briefings, Taylorthe slick, well-spoken Houston-based attorney decries the injustice perpetrated against the TAB’S right to free speech. Earle the plodding, philosophical prosecutor from outside Fort Worthwarns that if the TAB gets away with using secret corporate money, the electoral system could become hopelessly corrupted. The case currently sits before the state Court of Criminal Appeals on a procedural motion. Even with the TAB’s considerable pull among influential Republicans, the Court of Criminal Appeals has already turned down Taylor’s motions twice. Now, the nine-member court must decide if it will hear the TAB’s plea to halt the grand jury investigation. If it does, Taylor will argue that the TAB shouldn’t be subjected to the public embarrassment of Earle’s investigation unless the district attorney can show that the TAB’S ads were not simply issue-oriented and that election laws were broken. Earle will contend that the grand jury has a right to investigate potential crimes, period. If the Court of Criminal Appeals rules that the grand jury inquiry can continue, Taylor says he will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Republicans note that this is not the first time corporate money has seeped into elections. And Democrats have used issue ads advantageously in the past. They are right on both counts. What made the 2002 election unique was the enormous amount of corporate money involved and the highly organized way it was applied. Bill Clayton, a four-term House Speaker from 1975 to 1983, says he has never witnessed anything quite like the TRM-TAB campaign of 2002. “We just didn’t do things like that,” he says. Clayton believes the high cost of elections and the never-ending lust for contributions corrupts politics and leads to voter apathy. He remembers his first House race cost him all of $6,000 for the primary, runoff, and general election. Those days are, of course, long gone. To run for the state House now will cost as much as seven hundred thousand dollars. Aspire to the Senate? Be prepared to spend as much as two million. The spiraling cost of campaigns and pricey attack ads ensures that in modern politics the winning candidate will most always be the one with the most money. In this environment, enough corporate cash funneled into just the right race can swing an election, or even tilt the balance of power in a state legislature. TRM’s Jim Ellis says his boss Torn 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 8/29/03