“It’ll never stand up on appeal,” a defiant but obviously shaken Tom DeLay told reporters moments after his recent conviction for money laundering and conspiracy. […] DeLay’s crime ripped a hole in Texas democracy. It’s serious. His conviction carries a penalty of up to life in prison, though no one really expects him to do hard time. As a politician, however, he’s deader than a truck-squashed armadillo.
DeLay spent his early life as an exterminator. He entered local politics in 1978, eventually rising to become Republican House Majority Leader and earning the nickname, “The Hammer.” In 2005 he resigned in disgrace after close ties to another politics felon, Jack Abramoff, and after this set of charges was filed. He has pompously proclaimed his innocence ever since, while quietly using trick after trick in a cowardly attempt to put off the trial.
Tom DeLay made an entire political career out of insider dealing. In retrospect, it’s likely what got him elected in the first place. And this was the consummate insider deal. The purpose of his money laundering was to elect more state representatives so they could gerrymander federal election districts so that the Texas congressional seats remained forever in Republican control. His seat included.
Here’s how it worked: Business people gave large donations to Texans for a Republican Majority, a political action committee created by DeLay. Texas law didn’t allow these funds to be given to local candidates. So DeLay worked out a conspiracy with the Republican National Committee. RNC would deposit the funds in its bank account then write checks back to local Texas candidates. I know what you’re thinking, “This is the strategy DeLay imagined would outsmart campaign finance law?” Crazy huh?
On September 12, 2002 A DeLay operative delivered a $190,000 check to the RNC along with a list of Texas candidates and specific dollar amounts. Former Montana Governor Marc Racicot was chairman of the RNC back then. On October 2, 2002, Racicot ordered checks totaling $190,000 for the seven candidates, matching the dollar amounts on the list. No one from the RNC has ever been charged, but with DeLay facing hard time – and looking to make a sentencing deal – that may change.
DeLay’s defense turned on the idea that he’d turned an illegal act into a legal one – by money laundering.
The original 2002 criminal complaint was made by Texans for Public Justice. After the verdict was announced, director Craig McDonald said, “We can’t undo the 2002 election, but a jury wisely acted to hold DeLay accountable for conspiring to steal it.”