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Ben Streusand has long been fascinated with politics. In the Houston offices of Home Loan Corp., the mortgage-lending firm he heads, hang signed letters by Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt. A large man with a jovial smile, Streusand has worked for years as a Republican fund-raiser in Houston. He is the kind of essential cog in the Texas Republican political machine that links the elected officials with their corporate contributors. On October 12, 2002, about a month before the election, Streusand sent a letter addressed to: “Tom Craddick, Texans for a Republican Majority.” Enclosed was a $5,000 check from Aegis Mortgage Corp. to TRMPAC. Streusand wrote, “Dear Tom: Rick Thompson is the President of Aegis Mortgage, a nationwide lender headquartered in Houston. Next time you are in town I would like you to meet him.” Streusand declined to respond to four calls seeking comment. Since a number of corporate privateers and other special interests cashed in on the 78th Legislature, it stands to reason that Streusand would get his piece as well. And indeed, Streusand has benefited nicely from the efforts of Craddick, DeLay, and TRMPAC. He’s running for Congress in the newly redrawn, ultra-conservative 10th district that runs from north Houston to Austin. He’s leading in the polls and favored to beat his seven Republican opponents in the primary, which in that district, essentially hands him a U.S. House seat. As for Craddick, his acceptance of at least $5,000 in corporate money on behalf of TRMPAC doesn’t square with his post-election claims that he wasn’t involved with the PAC. Craddick didn’t just receive TRMPAC money; he handed it out too. On October 18, 2002, as the machine was scrambling to shift money into key races, TRMPAC executive director John Colyandro e-mailed TRMPAC accountant Russell Anderson with specific instructions for cash disbursements for Craddick to hand out. The e-mail’s subject line was “Hard $ checks.” Colyandro wrote, “You should receive a check from Jim Leininger [a San Antonio right-wing campaign cash cow] today. I have another $100,000 that I will give you this morning. You need to cut checks for the following totals and have them Fed Ex’ed for Monday delivery to Tom Craddick at the following address.” Colyandro’s e-mail then listed 14 Republican candidates and how much they should each receive. The 14 checks totaled $152,000. Colyandro instructed Russell to send all 14 checks to Craddick at “500 West Texas, Suite 880, Midland, Texas, ATTN: Susan Wynn.” That’s the address of Craddick’s district office, according to the 2002 Texas State Directory. Wynn heads Craddick’s district office. It’s unseemly, and possibly illegal, for a speaker candidate to distribute PAC money to the very House candidates who may elect him. By handing out TRMPAC checks to House candidates, Craddick may have run afoul of the Texas law designed to prevent outsiders from influencing a race to elect the House speaker. he last major scandal to thoroughly roil the waters of state government started in the beginning of 1971. What would later be known as Sharpstowna name in Texas that is as evocative of political scandal as Watergate is for the nation as a wholebegan as a bribery scheme whereby an influential businessman attempted to buy legislation beneficial to his bank by giving lawmakers access to stocks on which they could make a quick profit. By the time the scandal had run its course, Speaker of the House Gus Mutscher, Jr. had been tried, found guilty of a felony, and sentenced to five years’ probation. The scandal eventually brought about the electoral defeat of the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, and the governor. Sharpstown resulted in a number of needed reforms dealing with campaign reporting, ethics, lobby registration, open meetings, and open records as well as a number of consumer protections. “The whole point of this stuff was to go back and say ‘look, there are some important principles’, one of which is that we ought to know who is paying for the campaigns in the first place,” says Sam Kinch, who covered the Legislature as a journalist for 40 years and co-authored a book on the scandal. \(One of the areas the Travis County DA’s inquiry may reveal is which special interests bankrolled As part of the post-Sharpstown reforms, lawmakers established rules for the race for House speaker. “Back in the old days, the lobby was the most overwhelming influence in the election of the speaker,” says Kinch. “In the pre-Sharpstown reform days, the speaker actually could be a dictator if he wanted to be.” Billy Clayton, who served as House speaker himself from 1975 to 1983, remembers that the goal of the speaker’s statute was to make it harder for outside influences to control the race for the speaker. “[The statute was created] so that there wouldn’t be a lot of big dogs throwing money in after it,” he remembers. “It was to try and keep it within the covey.” The statute establishes the rules of the game for the House speaker race. It protects House members by forbidding speaker candidates from offering their fellow representatives anything in exchange for their votes. It also describes who can contribute to a speaker candidate’s campaign and for what the money can be used. Although both Clayton and his successor Gib Lewis were touched by scandal to different degrees during their speakerships, in neither case was it on the scale of Sharpstown. By many accounts, the next speaker, Pete Laney, tried to keep some distance between his office and the business lobby. Laney also promoted an atmosphere of bipartisanship for those who played by his rules. This more consensual model forced lawmakers to form coalitions, communicate, and keep their legislative maneuvers more or less in the open. By the late 1990s, a number of forces were conspiring to dethrone Laney and end the Texas tradition of bispartisanship. The state was steadily turning Republican. The GOP and certain elements within the business lobby felt that the continued on page 18 2/27/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7