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Background on the investigation of the Texas speaker

News 8 in Austin explains the background for the investigation now going on in Texas over the election of the Speaker of the House.

Until now, District Attorney Ronnie Earle has worked within the confines of murky and confusing campaign finance laws in which crimes are often difficult to prove.

But the investigation widened significantly last week when a series of news stories broke tying Speaker Tom Craddick into the delivery of potentially laundered corporate dollars to his supporters.

Suddenly, the axis of the investigation shifted from campaign finance laws to something called the Speaker statute.

Once upon a time, the chemical industry, the railroads and the manufacturers routinely anointed Speakers of the Texas House. Finally, in the spirit of reform, the Legislature passed a very restrictive and specific law about what was and was not permitted in a Speaker's race.

For instance, campaign contributions to House members based on their support or opposition of a specific speaker candidate is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in the penitentiary.