Wednesday, January 03, 2007

"Money down a $1,000 toilet."

'Craddick's Castle' controversy heats up

January 3, 2007

WFAA-TV (Dallas/Ft. worth)
Copyright 2006

As two lawmakers face off against Tom Craddick for Texas speaker of the house, controversy has intensified surrounding an apartment recently remodeled by Craddick and his wife using hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate donations.

Critics call it "Craddick's Castle."

Craddick, of Midland, could soon be evicted as leader of the Texas house.

"I wouldn't be standing here today if I didn't feel like I was going to win overwhelmingly," said Rep. Jim Pitts of Waxahachie, who is a fellow Republican challenging Craddick.

If Craddick loses, he also faces eviction from the speaker's apartment in the Capitol and may never get to enjoy his controversial improvements.

In a University of Texas documentary on the apartment, Craddick called the place historic.

"We really feel like it's part of Texas history, and everyone needs to enjoy it," he said.

But the taxpayer owned apartment is not open to the public and not a stop on Capitol tours.

Craddick started remodeling the apartment last year and raised a million dollars in private donations not covered by state ethics and campaign finance laws.

Telecom giant AT&T, Maxxam; which owns horse tracks in Texas, and Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons were among those who chipped in.

But watchdog groups claim that the use of money was a conflict of interest for Craddick.

"And it's no accident that the people who are ponying-up these large contributions are major commercial interests that have business in front of the state legislature," said Andrew Wheat, Texas for Public Justice.

A Craddick spokeswoman said donors are interested in historic preservation, but what got attention were the contractor's suggestions - a $1,300 custom shower door, an almost $15,000 range, a $7,000 freezer and two $1,000 toilets - after Craddick's wife said she wanted the apartment redone in "grand style."

The spokeswoman claims no $1,000 toilets were installed, but didn't know about the rest.

Texans for Public Justice isn't sure the commodes weren't put in, but knows if Craddick loses it could mean a big loss for the Craddicks.

"I guess it could be money down a $1,000 toilet," Wheat said.


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