Following the indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, conservatives are left wondering what to make of the charges. The answer is simple. The charges are absurd and should be thrown out of court.
Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has charged DeLay with conspiracy to make a contribution to a political party in violation of the Texas Election Code. The alleged violation involved a money swap between the now-defunct Texans for a Republican Majority PAC (TRMPAC), which DeLay helped found but never managed, and the Republican National State Elections Committee (RNSEC). TRMPAC sent a check for $190,000 to RNSEC, and RNSEC then sent checks totaling approximately the same amount to Texas House candidates in October of 2002. Earle, a Democrat, calls this money laundering, because the money that TRMPAC sent to RNSEC came from corporations, which are barred from contributing to campaigns in Texas.
Earle is wrong. Before campaign-finance reform, this kind of soft-money for hard-money swap was perfectly legal and happened all the time. In October of 2002, the Texas Democratic party did the same thing when it sent $75,000 to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and received $75,000 back from the DNC.
Also, as former Department of Justice official Barbara Comstock noted yesterday, “Had corporations sent money directly to the RNC or RNSEC, the transaction would be legal. How could anyone conspire to do indirectly what could legally have been done directly?” Earle considers these transactions illegal because he thinks they should be, and he’s convinced a grand jury to play along with him.
Even if the underlying transactions were illegal, Earle would have to convince a jury that DeLay conspired with others to send the checks. DeLay told Brit Hume on Fox News Wednesday night that he was not aware of the transactions until after they had already taken place. If Earle has any evidence proving otherwise, he left it out of the indictment.
It should come as no surprise that the mastermind of such a farcical case also conducted a farcical investigation, which dragged on for 34 months and six grand juries. Accused of frequently leaking sealed proceedings, Earle also discussed the case as the featured speaker at a Democratic-party fundraiser last May. He told the crowd, “This case is not just about Tom DeLay. If it isn’t this Tom DeLay, it’ll be another one, just like one bully replaces the one before. This is a structural problem involving the combination of money and power. Money brings power and power corrupts.”
“These charges probably won’t survive first contact with DeLay’s attorney.”
Earle should know. He has already abused his power in this case to extort money from corporations for his own pet projects in exchange for dismissing indictments he brought against them, as Byron York has reported.
These charges probably won’t survive first contact with DeLay’s attorney, who also defended Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in Earle’s crash-and-burn case against her in 1993. Hutchison, up for reelection, insisted on a jury trial. As soon as a jury was chosen, Earle refused to proceed. That judge threw out the case. The same thing should happen this time, if the case even makes it to trial.
One needn’t be a DeLay flack to see this. We have had criticisms of DeLay ourselves–his support of the Medicare-drug benefit, his relationship with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and his recent comments about the “pared down” budget all come to mind. But this indictment is outrageous and should not be allowed to succeed as a tactic. While the political fallout of this indictment will take time to sort through, this case makes one thing clear: Campaign-finance regulation makes prosecution a continuation of politics by other means.