Texas Election Lawsuit Expanded to Include Insurers

August 22, 2005

Several corporate donors, most of them insurance companies, are now defendants in a civil lawsuit filed by three losing Texas Democratic legislative candidates in connection with funding of their opponents’ campaigns, which also is under investigation by a grand jury.

According to the Associated Press and the Austin American-Statesman, the Democrats’ lawyer, Buck Wood of Austin, added eight corporations recently to the suit against Texas Association of Business, a trade group that spent about $1.7 million of corporate money on ads that touted Republicans and criticized Democrats.

The eight corporations added are AT&T Corp., Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Co., Ace American Insurance Co., Aetna Inc., Connecticut General Life Insurance Co., United Healthcare of Texas, Cigna Healthcare of Texas Inc. and America’s Health Insurance Plans. More corporations might be added as defendants, Wood said.

Republicans won a majority of House seats in 2002 allowing them to elect the first Republican House speaker since Reconstruction. But the victories of several GOP candidates have been under scrutiny of a Travis County grand jury probing whether they improperly received corporate money for their campaigns from the business association and Texans for a Republican Majority, a political action committee connected to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. DeLay has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle is investigating whether the contributions violate state bans against corporate money being spent on campaign activities.

The association has said its ads did not violate the ban because they did not advocate the election or defeat of anyone, rather they educated voters about issues.

The contributions were made when the insurance industry was under fire from the public and state officials. Rates for homeowners insurance were climbing, insurers were threatening to leave the state, and doctors and hospital officials were complaining about the high costs of malpractice insurance.

The Legislature rewrote homeowners insurance rules the next year, though critics say the changes didn’t go far enough in regulating the insurance industry. Lawmakers also authorized a constitutional amendment, later approved by voters, limiting some lawsuit damages, a move that had been backed by insurance companies.

Also, a Washington lobbyist is holding a golf tournament and luncheon in Virginia to raise money for the legal defense fund for John Colyandro, Jim Ellis and Warren RoBold, who have been indicted in the investigation of Texans for a Republican Majority, an attorney in the case said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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