Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay — once one of the most powerful and feared Republicans in Congress — was convicted Wednesday on charges he illegally funneled corporate money to Texas candidates in 2002.
Jurors deliberated for 19 hours before returning guilty verdicts against DeLay on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He faces up to life in prison on the money laundering charge.
After the verdicts were read, DeLay hugged his daughter, Danielle, and his wife, Christine. His lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said they planned to appeal the verdict.
"This is an abuse of power. It's a miscarriage of justice, and I still maintain that I am innocent. The criminalization of politics undermines our very system and I'm very disappointed in the outcome," DeLay told reporters outside the courtroom. He remains free on bond, and his sentencing was tentatively set to begin on Dec. 20.
The verdict was "an important victory for our democracy," said Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center. Potter, a Republican member of the Federal Election Commission from 1991-1995, said DeLay "displayed a startling contempt for our laws," adding: "He should be punished accordingly."
Prosecutors said DeLay, who once held the No. 2 job in the House of Representatives and whose heavy-handed style earned him the nickname "the Hammer," used his political action committee to illegally channel $190,000 in corporate donations into 2002 Texas legislative races through a money swap.
The decision signals the end of an era that many Republicans would rather forget. After sweeping into power on Capitol Hill in the 1990s, the GOP lost it after many prominent lawmakers became involved in an array of shady dealings. Many were connected to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was convicted of bribing public officials in exchange for legislative favors. DeLay's connections to Abramoff were the subject of an FBI investigation that did not lead to any charges.
Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation described the former majority leader as the last major public figure connected to the GOP scandals of that time whose fate hasn't been decided.
"It’s fair to say this marks the end of one major collective of scandals," he said.
The trial stemmed from DeLay's successful effort at the beginning of the last decade to win control of the state legislature for the Republican Party. That gave the GOP an advantage in the decennial redrawing of the congressional map following the U.S. Census -- an advantage that Republicans still enjoy today.
Prosecutors accused DeLay of illegally funneling $190,000 in corporate campaign contributions -- which are banned in Texas -- to state legislative candidates by using the Republican National Committee as a go-between. DeLay's indictment on money-laundering charges in 2005 forced him out of his position as majority leader. He resigned from the House in 2006.
Since then, he's kept a low political profile, though he did compete on ABC's Dancing With The Stars last season.
The directors of DeLay’s state and federal PACs, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis, were also accused of violating lesser money laundering laws and have yet to be tried.
During the trial, prosecutors pointed to evidence that the RNC received a check for $190,000 from DeLay’s political action committee in September 2002. Less than a month later, a section of the national committee sent the same amount to seven GOP candidates for the Texas state House.
DeLay’s attorneys argued that no corporate money ever went to state candidates and accused the Democratic prosecutor who brought the case in Travis County, where Austin is located, of having political motivations.
First elected to Congress in 1984, DeLay became the House majority whip after Republicans won control of the lower chamber in the 1994 elections. The former pest exterminator earned the nickname “The Hammer” because of the aggressive way he wielded his influence within the House Republican Conference to pass GOP legislative priorities even in years when the party had only a slim majority.
DeLay, who became House majority leader after a fellow Texan, Dick Armey, retired from the position in 2003, extended his "Hammer" influence well beyond the Capitol. He insisted that companies hire Republican lobbyists if they wanted to have a place at the legislative negotiating table, and directed the 2003 effort to redraw Texas's congressional district boundaries in the state's legislature, where he served before entering Congress.
DeLay's influence and the Republican majority that he helped build in the Texas legislature paid off for his party. Before redistricting, Democrats held a 17-15 edge in the Texas congressional delegation. After the implementation of DeLay's plan, which split Hispanic strongholds and drew several Democratic incumbents into the same districts, Republicans gained six seats in the 2004 House elections, gaining control of Texas’s delegation for the first time since Reconstruction.
Since then, the GOP has further cemented control: The incoming House of Representatives will have 23 Republicans and just nine Democrats from Texas.
The Associated Press contributed contributed to this article.