October 4, 2005

Ron and Tom's Bogus Journey

Hatched by Dafydd

I have now read all the way through the second indictment of Tom DeLay by Ronnie Earle, the obsessesed "Inspector Javert" of Travis County, TX. In fact, I read through it several times. And I'm completely befuddled.

Now, I'm what's known in the Navy as a "sea lawyer." That is, I'm not an attorney, but I sometimes play one in my own mind. So I may be unaware of case law that might clarify this indictment further. But so far as I can make out, reading the indictment and the sections of the Texas Election Code that it cites, it doesn't really even allege a crime... and in any event, the connection to Tom DeLay is as tenuous as gossamer.

DeLay is only mentioned twice in the indictment:

John Dominick Colyandro, James Walter Ellis, and Thomas Dale DeLay, the defendants herein, with intent that a felony be committed... did agree with one or more persons... that they or one or more of them engage in conduct that would constitute the aforesaid offense, and the defendant, John Dominick Colyandro, the defendant, James Walter Ellis, and the Republican National Committee, did perform an overt act in pursuance of the agreement....

[T]he defendants, John Dominick Colyandro, James Walter Ellis, and Thomas Dale DeLay, did knowingly conduct, supervise, and facilitate a transaction involving the proceeds of criminal activity that constituted an offense classified as a felony under the laws of this state....

In both cases, the only "law of that state" cited is the Texas Election Code, chapter 253, subchapter D. I didn't have any trouble finding that code section online, either (subchapter D begins at 253.091).

Sec. 253.104. CONTRIBUTION TO POLITICAL PARTY. (a) A corporation or labor organization may make a contribution from its own property to a political party to be used as provided by Chapter 257.

Chapter 257 lists the detailed restrictions in section 257.002:

Sec. 257.002. REQUIREMENTS RELATING TO CORPORATE OR LABOR UNION CONTRIBUTIONS. (a) A political party that accepts a contribution authorized by Section 253.104 may use the contribution only to:

(1) defray normal overhead and administrative or operating costs incurred by the party; or

(2) administer a primary election or convention held by the party.

(b) A political party that accepts contributions authorized by Section 253.104 shall maintain the contributions in a separate account.

In other words, money contributed by corporations is "soft money," which can't be used directly for campaigns; and parties must maintain separate accounts to segregate "soft money" from "hard money" (contributions from individuals). This is exactly the same as the federal prohibition -- not surprising, since the Texas statute was modeled on the federal statute.

But the Republican National State Elections Committee (RNSEC) responds that this is exactly how they handled these transactions, and indeed, all such soft-money transactions, since they must obey federal law themselves. They had two separate accounts, one for "soft money," the other for "hard money". The money from Texans for a Republican Majority PAC (TRMPAC), which came from corporations, went into the "soft money" account. But the money sent back for use in political campaigns came from the "hard money" account.

Ronnie Earle calls this "money laundering." Now, I don't know about Texas, but to me, money laundering can only occur if the initial source of the money is itself criminal. I've never before heard the term used to mean money legally donated to a political party or political action committee.

Also, don't you have to show that the money at the end of the process is the same money that was criminal at the beginning -- that is, that there is no separate and distinct origin of the end money? But in this case, when the RNSEC donated money to the Texas campaigns, the money came from their separate "hard money" account collected from specific, named, and reported individual donors. It was not the same money.

Well, maybe there technically wasn't any crime; but what about the spirit of the law? Did this agreement attempt to circumvent the law? Again, the answer is emphatically No, it did not: Texas set up a procedure to follow for corporate/union money on the one hand and money from individual donors on the other; all that TRMPAC did was follow those rules.

In fact, it appears that Ronnie Earle has charged the defendants with willfully conspiring to obey the law.

The purpose of campaign finance reform is twofold: to strictly limit the amount of money that can be donated by corporations and unions to campaigns, and to sever the direct connection between candidates and deep-pocket donors. The money sent into the Texas campaigns came from individual donors, not corporations; every dollar sent to Texas was a dollar that could not be sent to any other state or federal campaign. Those Texas corporations could have contributed a billion dollars, and the RNSEC still would not have had one, single extra dime to spend on political campaigns!

And as far as severability, Earle's indictment doesn't even allege that a single candidate was told "pssst! this money is actually from such-and-such a corporation." There is no allegation they were even told it was from TRMPAC. So far as I can tell, the candidates would only know they had gotten money from the Republican Party.

Well how about coordination? Does the list of proposed recipients of the money that TRMPAC sent to the RNSEC make it into money laundering? Again, that seems quite a reach: the whole point of money laundering is to conceal the source of criminal proceeds or their destination; yet both the point of origin (XYZ Corporation) and the destination (RNSEC) were not only not concealed, they were reported to the Federal Elections Commission.

The final absurdity is the contortion that Ronnie Earle had to go through in order to extend the indictment to Tom DeLay himself. Every single act alleged in the indictment is the act of somebody other than Tom DeLay; hence the conspiracy charge... Earle has to prove that Tom DeLay "did agree" to do all the things that other people did, which Earle alleges were illegal.

But unless Earle has some explosive evidence that nobody else has heard about, the only thing Tom DeLay agreed to do is found a political action committee; he left all the day-to-day decisions to the people who actually ran it.

This indictment is no less tendentious (and ridiculous) than the first; the only difference is that Earle has added "money laundering," so he can threaten DeLay with a 99-year sentence. A bogus travesty has just been converted into a double-secret bogus travesty, if I can mix my movie metaphors.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, October 4, 2005, at the time of 4:29 PM

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Tracked on October 15, 2005 2:51 PM


The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

WOW!!! Great Job!!!

i'm thinking that the Republicans should look into the "Violation of Civil Rights" on this one, since Earle may have violated those statutes in his rush to thrash and trash DeLay.

Violating the Civil Rights of another American in order to kill or destroy that American is a serious charge, and it appears that Earle is doing such.

Travis County, Texas...

The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 4, 2005 5:21 PM

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