In reporting on the conviction of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on Wednesday of two felonies, money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering, the New York Times reports the facts of the case which were never in dispute:
• In mid-September 2002, Tom DeLay’s state political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, gave a check for $190,000 to the Republican National Committee. The money had been donated earlier in the year by various corporate lobbyists seeking to influence Mr. DeLay.
• On Sept. 13, the check was delivered to the RNC by Jim Ellis, who was Mr. DeLay’s top political operative in Washington and headed his federal political action committee.
• At the same meeting, Ellis also gave the Republican director of political operations, Terry Nelson, a list of state candidates and an amount to be sent to each. Nelson testified that Ellis had told him the request for the swap had come from DeLay.
• In early October, donations were sent from a separate account filled with individual donations to seven Republican candidates in Texas. Six of them won. Republicans took control of the Legislature for the first time in modern history and in 2003 pushed through a redistricting plan, orchestrated by DeLay, that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004 and helped him consolidate power.
The prosecution had to prove that 1) the money had been obtained through an illegal activity before it was laundered and that 2) DeLay played a leading role in the plan and intended to break the Texas election law from the moment his political operatives solicited the donations.
As the Times reports, “During the last day of deliberations, the jurors asked for transcripts of Mr. DeLay’s interview with prosecutors in 2005, in which he said he knew about the swap in advance. ‘Jim Ellis told me he was going to do it before he did it,’ Mr. DeLay said in the interview.”
It is, of course, no surprised that DeLay has insisted and continues to insist that he has not been prosecuted, but persecuted, and that this whole matter is nothing more than the “criminalization of politics.” However, the jury consisted of a Republican, six Democrats, two independent conservatives and three independent liberals. There were ample opportunities to hang the jury had not all of them been convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that DeLay was, indeed, guilty of the charges leveled against him.
As the New York Times editorial points out, “During his tenure leading House Republicans, Mr. DeLay established a new low in ethical conduct among Congressional leaders. He put family members on his campaign payroll, took lavish trips paid for by lobbyists and twisted the arms of K Street lobbyists to ante up and donate to his party’s candidates and hire more Republicans.”
Although the NYT laments “the unbridled, unaccountable influence of big money in political campaigns” and celebrates that “a Texas jury stood up for honesty in campaign finance on Wednesday and convicted Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, of money laundering,” it warns that thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission “there are now many new ways for politicians to commit acts similar to those for which Mr. DeLay was convicted, all of them perfectly legal.”
DeLay faces a possible sentence of five to 99 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine on the money laundering charge, and two to 20 years in prison and a possible $10,000 fine on the conspiracy charge. Judge Pat Priest has wide discretion in sentencing the former majority leader. No one expects anything close to the maximum and some reports even indicate that probation is a possibility. Sentencing is set for December 20th. And, of course, appeals are certain.
Outside the courthouse after the verdict, DeLay insisted that the entire matter was an “abuse of power” and the results were a “miscarriage of justice.” Such accusations are predictable from a man and his party who repeatedly insist upon attributing behavior to others where that behavior is rampant by that party and its adherents.
Tom DeLay, who was known as the Hammer for his brass-knuckles, no-holds-barred style during 20 years in the House of Representatives, has finally been nailed.