It only took five years, but Texas Democrats finally won a conviction against former House Majority Leader Tom Delay. An Austin, TX, jury found him guilty of money laundering during the 2002 Texas congressional races. The New York Times explains the “money laundering” charge:
Mr. DeLay was initially charged with breaking campaign finance law. But prosecutors later switched strategies because it was impossible under the law at the time to accuse someone of conspiring to break campaign finance rules, prosecutors said.
Instead, prosecutors used a novel legal theory never before tried in Texas: They argued that Mr. DeLay and two of his political operatives — John Colyandro and Jim Ellis — had violated the criminal money-laundering law.
They were charged with conspiring to funnel $190,000 in corporate donations to state candidates through the Republican National Committee.
The main facts of the case were never in dispute.
In mid-September 2002, as the election heated up, Mr. 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, several witnesses said.
On Sept. 13, the check was delivered to the R.N.C. by Mr. Ellis, who was Mr. DeLay’s top political operative in Washington and headed his federal political action committee.
At the same meeting, Mr. Ellis also gave the Republican director of political operations, Terry Nelson, a list of state candidates and an amount to be sent to each. Mr. Nelson testified that Mr. Ellis had told him the request for the swap had come from Mr. 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 Mr. DeLay, that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004 and helped him consolidate power.
One has to wonder how many times, on a routine basis, something similar has occurred within the Democratic party machinery of Illinois or New Jersey or Louisiana, or for that matter how many times something similar occurred in relation to the millions of dollars raised by Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign. Or during Bill Clinton’s illegal 1996 fund raising schemes. I see nothing more than “politics as usual” here, certainly not some kind of uber-evil criminal conspiracy.
DeLay will appeal of course, and if his conviction stands he will probably pay a fine and receive probation rather than be sentenced to prison. Still, it will be interesting to see how soon state prosecutors will start going over Democrat campaign finance records, since there is now legal precedent and a high-level conviction on the books.