What (Pardon, Who) Do the Trinity River Project and Tom DeLay Have in Common?
In my narrow and twisted personal universe, everything is about the trinity River Project, even today's closing arguments in Austin in the money laundering trial of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Follow me into the labyrinth.
People ask me all the time, "Who's behind this thing?" Dallas's multi-billion dollar public works project to rebuild the Trinity River through downtown seems like a such self-apparent boondoggle and counterintuitive mess (building a superhighway right where the river floods, for example), people are understandably puzzled.
We get only peeks. But peeks are interesting. For example, one of the people out beating the drum loudest to defeat the 2007 referendum on the toll road was Bill Ceverha, a former state legislator and former trustee of the Employees Retirement System of Texas. The referendum was to force the city to move the route of the toll road out of the flood zone.
Ceverha's side, which won, wanted it kept in the flood zone (and off certain people's private land holdings nearby).
Ceverha has also been a key witness in the DeLay trial.
He was treasurer of Texans for a Republican Majority, a political action committee founded by DeLay that is at the center of the money-laundering trial. Ceverha has testified that DeLay didn't know much about the money operations of his own PAC.
In an earlier matter, TRMPAC was held liable in a Texas civil trial for hiding $600,000 spent to defeat Democrats in the 2002 Texas elections. In that case Ceverha was ordered to pay $196,660 to some of the Democrats who had been defeated with the hidden money. He declared personal bankruptcy and then negotiated to pay a third of the judgment to the candidates in order to get out of bankruptcy.
In reaction to Ceverha's personal bankruptcy, along with his involvement with an organization (TRMPAC) that was under criminal investigation at the time and along with a court finding that he had violated state campaign finance and election laws, Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick appointed Ceverha to the board that oversees $20 billion in state employees' pension assets. Nobody's perfect.
In a personal financial disclosure declaration required of state officials, Ceverha reported he had received a gift from Houston home-builder and ultra-right anti-consumer activist Bob Perry. Ceverha listed the amount of the gift as "check."
A watchdog group, Texans for Public Justice, complained about the arrogance of that, to no ultimate avail. But out of the brouhaha came knowledge of a whole inventory of five- and six-figure checks Ceverha had received from top Republicans after demonstrating his loyalty in L'Affaire TRMPAC.
One who was not on the list of Ceverha benefactors was Louis Beecherl, a longtime promoter of the Trinity River Project. Beecherl goes so far back on Trinity issues, he was even a promoter of the ill-fated plan in the 1960s to channelize the entire river and turn Dallas into a seaport. With federal tax dollars, of course.
Beecherl and Ceverha are usually described in press accounts as having "close ties." So why didn't Beecherl join anti-consumer guru Perry or anti-government Medievalist James Leininger in padding Ceverha's pockets after Ceverha took one for the team in the TRMPAC civil suit?
But, a-ha! Here he is in the paperwork! In 2008 the Texas 3rd Court of Criminal Appeals walked DeLay on state criminal charges on grounds that he hadn't laundered and actual money -- just checks. You had to be there. The argument of the court was that the law pertained to cash only. Not checks. Yup. It's history, folks. I do not make this stuff up.
Later, Texans for Public Justice published an analysis of campaign contributions made to the three Republican judges who had crafted the checks-are-cool-with-us ruling. And, guess what. They all took fistfuls of money -- well, checks, actually -- from the same coterie of Republican sugar daddies who had bankrolled TRMPAC and bankrolled Ceverha, with one addition. Beecherl. He had tossed in $35,000 for the judges in question, according to Texans for Public Justice.
So it's like this. I look at the DeLay trial winding up today. I go to the window of our seventh floor offices and look out the west-facing windows. I see Old Man River. And he just keeps rolling along.