Tom DeLay Is Still Guilty

Just not in the way that matters most.

Newly elected House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, left, talks with future House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, right, and future House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, before meeting reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 1994. The Republican congressional leaders announced the members of the Republican Steering Committee. (AP Photo/John Duricka)
National Journal
Alex Seitz Wald
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Alex Seitz-Wald
Sept. 19, 2013, 11:35 a.m.

The real scan­dal, as the ad­age goes, is what’s leg­al, and the fact that an Ap­pel­late Court in Texas on Thursday over­turned the con­vic­tion of former House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Tom DeLay doesn’t mean that what he did was kosh­er.

DeLay was found guilty of money laun­der­ing in 2010 for tak­ing cor­por­ate “soft-money” dona­tions and swap­ping them for un­res­tric­ted “hard money” be­fore dis­trib­ut­ing the cash to state le­gis­lat­ive can­did­ates in Texas. Cor­por­a­tions are not al­lowed to donate dir­ectly to can­did­ates un­der state law.

But Thursday, the Texas Third Court of Ap­peals in Aus­tin ruled “the evid­ence was leg­ally in­suf­fi­cient to sus­tain DeLay’s con­vic­tions.” Es­sen­tially, the ma­jor­ity ruled, pro­sec­utors hadn’t proved bey­ond a reas­on­able doubt that the dona­tions were in­ten­ded to be used for im­prop­er pur­poses, so the money wasn’t dirty to be­gin with and thus wasn’t laundered.

From the opin­ion over­turn­ing the con­vic­tion:

DeLay did not dis­pute any of the trans­fer-of-funds trans­ac­tions or that the Elec­tion Code pro­hib­ited cor­por­a­tions from mak­ing cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions to Texas can­did­ates. DeLay’s de­fens­ive the­ory, among oth­ers, was that none of the trans­fers was il­leg­al—that they were struc­tured to com­ply with the cam­paign fin­ance laws—and, there­fore, there were no pro­ceeds of crim­in­al activ­ity to sup­port money laun­der­ing or the con­spir­acy to com­mit money laun­der­ing. He con­ten­ded that trad­ing soft money for hard money was leg­al and com­monly done by both polit­ic­al parties at that time.

In oth­er words, DeLay doesn’t dis­pute the fact that he laundered money in the col­lo­qui­al sense of the word, only that he laundered money in the crim­in­al sense. The law was clearly in­ten­ded to pro­hib­it cor­por­ate dona­tions to can­did­ates, but it was writ­ten in such a way that it left a loop­hole DeLay was able to use to turn il­leg­al con­tri­bu­tions in­to leg­al ones through a few quick bank trans­fers.

And even that con­ten­tion is dis­put­able, as Chief Justice Wood­fin Jones noted in his dis­sent. It’s easy to con­clude that “rel­ev­ant cor­por­ate con­tri­bu­tions to [DeLay’s PAC] were made with the in­tent that they be used to sup­port in­di­vidu­al can­did­ates or be put to oth­er pur­poses not au­thor­ized [by the law],” Jones wrote. For in­stance, bro­chures and mar­ket­ing ma­ter­i­als used to so­li­cit dona­tions for the PAC in­cluded state­ments such as: Tex­ans for a Re­pub­lic­an Ma­jor­ity “is fo­cused on rais­ing and giv­ing funds dir­ectly to Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates for state house, state sen­ate, and po­ten­tially all statewide of­fices.”

The truth is, DeLay is right—shady deal­ings hap­pen all the time in both parties, and the vast ma­jor­ity of those in­volved will nev­er go to pris­on or even get in­vest­ig­ated. And now, after the Su­preme Court’s rul­ing in the Cit­izens United case, most of the re­stric­tions on cor­por­ate con­tri­bu­tions have been lif­ted any­way.

But for cam­paign fin­ance re­formers, DeLay’s con­vic­tion was a rare ex­ample of a broken sys­tem ac­tu­ally hold­ing someone ac­count­able, an im­port­ant ex­ample to every­one in polit­ics that even one of the most power­ful men in Wash­ing­ton was not above the law.

“Dur­ing his time in Con­gress, no one did more to un­der­mine fed­er­al and state cam­paign fin­ance laws than Tom DeLay. It is de­plor­able that an Ap­pel­late Court has over­turned Mr. DeLay’s fair and just con­vic­tion on money-laun­der­ing charges,” Melanie Sloan, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the good gov­ern­ment group Cit­izens for Re­spons­ib­il­ity and Eth­ics in Wash­ing­ton said in a state­ment. “It is a sad day for all Amer­ic­ans when Tom DeLay—one of the most cor­rupt politi­cians to ever walk the halls of the Cap­it­ol—once again slith­ers away.”

Now, DeLay serves as an ex­ample of what $12 mil­lion in leg­al fees can buy you.

What We're Following See More »
CITES CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Lieberman Withdraws from Consideration for FBI Job
4 days ago
THE LATEST
MINIMUM 2 PERCENT GDP
Trump Tells NATO Countries To Pay Up
4 days ago
BREAKING
MANAFORT AND FLYNN
Russians Discussed Influencing Trump Through Aides
4 days ago
THE DETAILS

"American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers." The conversations centered around Paul Manafort, who was campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and then a close campaign surrogate. Both men have been tied heavily with Russia and Flynn is currently at the center of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Source:
BUT WHITE HOUSE MAY USE AGAINST HIM ANYWAY
Ethics Cops Clear Mueller to Work on Trump Case
6 days ago
THE LATEST

"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."

Source:
BUSINESSES CAN’T PLEAD FIFTH
Senate Intel to Subpoena Two of Flynn’s Businesses
6 days ago
THE LATEST

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) will subpoena two businesses owned by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Burr said, "We would like to hear from General Flynn. We'd like to see his documents. We'd like him to tell his story because he publicly said he had a story to tell."

×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login