Newspapers uncritically reported DeLay's denial of “day-to-day” involvement in TRMPAC

In reporting on the September 28 indictment of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) for conspiracy to violate Texas campaign finance laws, The Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The Baltimore Sun all quoted DeLay denying involvement in the day-to-day operations of the political action committee Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) but failed to present any of the publicly available evidence that undermines DeLay's defense.

The grand jury indictment hinges upon DeLay's involvement with TRMPAC, which he helped to organize and allegedly used to redirect corporate contributions to Republican candidates in the 2002 Texas state elections -- a violation of state campaign finance laws. Appearing on the September 28 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, DeLay denied hands-on involvement in TRMPAC's operations, claiming: “I didn't know the candidates that they were giving money to. I just had nothing to do with the day-to-day operation.” DeLay also appeared on the September 28 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews and similarly denied involvement, saying: “I had no idea what they were doing.”

September 29 articles in The Wall Street Journal (subscription required), the San Francisco Chronicle, and The Baltimore Sun all quoted DeLay's denial on Fox News and noted that the indictment doesn't contain extensive details about DeLay's role in the alleged conspiracy.

The articles provided no indication, however, that DeLay may be more involved with TRMPAC than he alleges. A March 9 New York Times article described a series of documents from former TRMPAC staffers Warren Robold and John Colyandro, and lobbyist Drew Maloney -- who at one time worked on DeLay's congressional staff -- suggesting that “DeLay was more actively involved than previously known in gathering corporate donations” for TRMPAC. Both Robold and Colyandro are also under indictment. According to the New York Times:

In an August 2002 document subpoenaed from the files of the indicted fund-raiser, Warren M. RoBold, Mr. RoBold asked for a list of 10 major donors to the committee, saying that “I would then decide from response who Tom DeLay” and others should call to help the committee in seeking a “large contribution.”

Another document is a printout of a July 2002 e-mail message to Mr. RoBold from a political ally of Mr. Delay, requesting a list of corporate lobbyists who would attend a fund-raising event for the committee, adding that “DeLay will want to see a list of attendees” and that the list should be available “on the ground in Austin for T.D. upon his arrival.”


In one of his more detailed references to Mr. DeLay in the documents, Mr. RoBold seemed to suggest in an e-mailed message on Aug. 19, 2002, that Mr. DeLay would follow the committee's direction in fund-raising, not direct the fund-raising himself.

“John,” he wrote, referring to Mr. Colyandro, the committee's executive director. “Create a top 10 list of givers and let me call them to ask for large contribution. I would then decide from response who Tom DeLay others [sic] should call. If this is successful than I will do more of them.”


One of the most intriguing documents, he said, was a printout of a September 2002 e-mail exchange between Mr. RoBold and Drew Maloney, a Washington lobbyist who is Mr. DeLay's former legislative director and administrative assistant in the House.

Mr. Maloney, who has lobbied on behalf of Reliant Energy, the Houston-based energy company that was a major contributor to Texans for a Republican Majority, offered Mr. RoBold a list of possible corporate donors to the Texas committee, adding: “I finally have the two checks from Reliant. Will deliver to T.D. next week.”

The Texas committee's donation records show that it received a check for $25,000 from Reliant that month.

Maloney's email is available here.

Referring to the same documents, the Los Angeles Times reported on June 12 that "[w]atchdog groups say the documents suggest that DeLay's involvement in the committee -- which he founded in 2001 using $50,000 provided by a parallel group he had run for years in Washington, Americans for a Republican Majority -- was deeper than he has acknowledged."

A September 29 Washington Post article also referred to the same documents in reporting on the DeLay indictment:

Some evidence collected in a related civil case has pointed to heavy involvement by DeLay in the operations of the Texas committee. Its start-up was financed by a transfer of corporate funds from his leadership fund. He was a member of the Texas committee's advisory board in 2001 and 2002, participated in its strategizing, appeared at its fundraisers, and signed its solicitations. He also attended dinners with corporate donors that agreed to contribute tens of thousands of dollars to it; his fundraisers recorded the favors that donors sought.

But DeLay has long denied participating in its day-to-day operations and said that its activities were vetted by lawyers.