DeLay found guilty of campaign crime, awaits sentencing

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He was one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington and redrew the shape of Texas politics. But now former U.S. House majority leader Tom DeLay is a convicted felon who is awaiting sentencing and promising to appeal the jury verdict against him. A Travis County jury convicted DeLay on charges of conspiracy and money laundering on Wednesday — five years after he was initially indicted by then-Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle for alledgedly violating Texas’ campaign finance laws. “There were numerous commentators who said this was meaningless, that the indictments were just a local prosecutor gone wild,” said adjunct UT law professor Steve Bickerstaff. “The convictions show these charges were substantial all along.” Just after the convictions were handed down, DeLay and his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said the verdict was a miscarriage of justice. “I’m not going to blame anybody. This is an abuse of power,” DeLay said on Wednesday. “I still maintain that I’m innocent and that the criminalization of politics undermines our very system. Maybe we can get it before people who understand the law.” Travis County prosecutors had their hands full from the start due to Texas’s porous and contradictory election code laws, said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. When prosecutors brought another subject of the DeLay investigation, the Texas Association of Business, to trial for violating Texas’ campaign laws, many of their charges were tossed because of the problems with the Texas election code. “The prosecutors for Travis County decided that the campaign finance rules were just too tenuous to base their case around,” Jillson said. “They changed the theory of the case to a very novel interpretation of money laundering.” DeLay’s Texas political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, sent $190,000 in corporate campaign contributions to an arm of the Republican National Committee in October 2002, along with a list of seven candidates to donate money to and how much money to send to each campaign. Just a few days later, the RNC sent a total of $190,000 from a separate bank account — money that could be contributed to campaigns in Texas — to the seven listed candidates. “At no point was it illegal money or illegitimate money,” Jillson said. “It was just transparent that it was the same corporate money sent to Washington coming back as individual contributions.” Bickerstaff offered a comparative analogy — a company can’t donate $10,000 to a political campaign; therefore it is illegal to give their lawyer $10,000 with the instruction that he give $10,000 of his own money to the candidate they want to back. He said it’s not uncommon for national political groups such as the RNC to donate to state campaigns, but the list of candidates and the level of specificity made the transaction unique. “The transaction was one I’ve never seen before,” Bickerstaff said. “It was clearly an attempt to get around the law.”