DeLay's Transaction: But Was It Illegal?

The right hemisphere of the blogosphere has been busy for a while now defending Republican leaders against all the charges coming their way. This doesn't mean there's widespread corruption, they cry, it just means that the heretofore impotent Democrats have somehow found a way to get even with them through the legal system.

Using the law to take down political opponents is not a uniquely American phenomenon. Singapore, for example, has a particularly creative method: Bankrupting the opposition. Singapore has a loophole in its defamation law that leaves political speech without protection, making it particularly easy for members of the ruling party to sue their opponents. That the threat of a lawsuit creates a climate of fear around political speech is part of the problem. But more sinister is the large payouts awarded to the plaintiff; when the defendant can't pay quickly enough, the plaintiff petitions for that person to be declared bankrupt. According to Singapore law, no one in bankruptcy can be a member of parliament -- viola, instant political destruction with minimal mess.

But is this some trumped up, politically-motivated charge? A National Review editorial says yes, asserting that Tom DeLay took part in nothing illegal. "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."

I really don't see how Comstock's assertion could be true. Spending corporate money on the campaigns themselves is what was so illegal. "Texas law prohibits political parties from spending corporate or labor union money on anything other than running a party primary, paying for a convention or administrative expenses. State law also requires those funds to be spent through a separate, restricted account, which can also include money from other sources."

If the corporate donations had followed these rules and gone to the RNSEC (the Republican National State Elections Committee, defined in the indictment as a "nonfederal component of the Republican National Committee") directly, sure, that would have been fine -- assuming the money was spent on the abovementioned activities. One activity the corporate money can't be spent on? Candidates' campaigns within 60 days of the date of the general election.

"A violation of the law restricting the use of corporate money for general election campaigning by political parties is a Class A misdemeanor. Violating the law forbidding parties to raise corporate or labor union money for the separate account within 60 days of a general election or spend money from it within the same period is a third-degree felony." according to Texans for Public Justice. Note, the check (see page 3 of the indictment) from Texans for a Republican Majority PAC to RNSEC was dated Sept. 13, 2002 -- less than 60 days prior to the general election.

A Dallas Morning News editorial on what's at stake in DeLay case:

Texas long has banned corporations and unions from contributing to legislative and state candidates. Mr. DeLay and his associates are accused of subverting that law by raising corporate money in Texas, shipping it to Washington and directing GOP officials to return the donations to specific legislative races in Texas. Several of those races turned out to be key to the GOP's unprecedented, mid-decade redrawing of Texas' political boundaries in 2003, and, as a result, their outcome will chart the state's political future for years to come.

The law banning corporate money from legislative and state candidates is designed to keep the political world safe for all taxpayers, not just large corporate interests. ... no single interest should wield disproportionate power.

Republicans especially should embrace this truth. A bedrock GOP principle is the power of the individual. Going back to the party's early days, when leaders like Theodore Roosevelt held sway, it has stood against the corrupting power of too much power vested in the state or economic interests.

By Emily Messner |  October 25, 2005; 9:26 AM ET  | Category:  Beltway Perspectives
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Good stuff. These ethics scandals are a big deal and absolutely should be discussed and debated in the MSM (and thank you Emily for that term). If we can impeach a president for lying about a blow job, we can do our duty and pay attention to illegal payoffs and financial shadiness.

Posted by: Tina A. | October 25, 2005 12:04 PM

As a life long Republican, I'm ashamed by the actions of people/groups like DeLay's campaign. Whether or not what he did was illegal is up for question, whether or not it was unethical is not - resign Congressman.

Posted by: KCH | October 26, 2005 01:25 PM

As a life long Republican, I'm ashamed by the actions of people/groups like DeLay's campaign. Whether or not what he did was illegal is up for question, whether or not it was unethical is not - resign Congressman.

Posted by: KCH | October 26, 2005 01:32 PM

A Song For Tom

I have to shed a tear for poor George and his “Rat Pack” of Karl, Dick,
“Scooter,” Bill, and Tom. All the “commie liberals” are constantly attacking “our boys” for those silly little illegalities going on at the White House and the Capitol. And that wimpy little prosecutor in Texas wants to bring poor Tom back home for a TRIAL, no less! I guess their spirits must be pretty low right now, so I decided to send them a song to provide some good cheer. Enjoy!

“In The Jailhouse Now”
(Apologies to Jimmie Rodgers & The Soggy Bottom Boys)

I knew a guy named ramblin’ Tom.
He used to lie, babble, and bomb.
He thought he was the smartest guy around.
Well, I found out last Monday,
Tom got locked up Sunday.
They’ve got him in the jailhouse way downtown.

Chorus: He’s in the jailhouse now.
He’s in the jailhouse now.
Well I told him once or twice,
To stop playing God and telling lies.
He’s in the jailhouse now.
(continue Yodel of choice)

Posted by: Paul Mirsalis | October 26, 2005 06:01 PM

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