"Once abolish God and the government becomes the God." -G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Defending Tom Delay

If the midterm elections indicated a shellacking, Texas Democrats can at least take solace in the conviction of Republican Tom Delay last week on money laundering charges. In fact, almost every Democrat I've run into, with nothing else to look forward to except TSA pat-downs over the holidays, has been giddy when bringing up the trial of the 20 year Congressman and former house majority leader.

I'm certainly no fan of entrenched politicians, and Delay has been cozier with lobbyists than I got over Thanksgiving with my Snuggie. Still, allow me to mount a modest defense for Tom.

Let's start with the crime itself, something most haven't bothered to explain in plain and simple terms. Once you do, the whole thing starts to sound like an exercise in absurdity. In 2002, Tom Delay had a political action committee that raised money through corporate donations. This in itself is normal and legal. He contributed $190,000 of this money to the RNC. Again, nothing wrong with that. The RNC then donated $190,000 to seven candidates running in Texas. All of this is 100% legal.

What isn't legal is donating corporate money directly to Texas candidates, which some questioned whether this process was set up to circumvent. Did Delay intend all along to get corporate PAC money to these candidates? Did the donations these candidates received include any of that money? Impossible to tell and even harder to prove. The RNC has their own "firewall" between individual and corporate donations, and is free to spend on Republican candidates at their discretion.

However, sour Democrats - having lost six of the seven races where the RNC money was inserted - pushed for the opportunity to take Tom Delay out to the woodshed and force him to eat a vegan meal for three weeks or at least punish him somehow for his sin of politically outmaneuvering them. Travis County, with its brazen Democrat District Attorney, Ronnie Earle, provided the prime outlet for their rage. He went grand-jury shopping until he finally got an indictment (it took three tries).

We are dealing with highly circumstantial evidence here. Even the prosecution admits as much. Hence, the creative money laundering charge. The only problem is Delay's money was raised legally, whereas money laundering involves money solicited through illegal activity. There is no precedent for bringing money laundering charges in this type of case. It doesn't meet the threshold, and yet this jury bought it.

As for the jury, according to the New York Times, it consisted of, "a Republican, 6 Democrats, 3 independent liberals, and 2 independents." I'm going to be generous and call that 2 conservatives, 9 Democrats/liberals, and 1 undecided. Not even the Daily Kos would consider stacking their poll this far to the Left to get the results they wanted. Needless to say, this is probably cause for an appeal.

Call me crazy, but it's hard to be outraged at Tom Delay's actions when Democrat Maxine Waters - who is still serving in Congress - successfully lobbied the House Financial Services Committee (and Rep. Barney Frank) for millions in TARP money to bail out the bank her husband owns shares in. That's a breach of ethics, an abuse of power, and taking advantage of a crisis for personal profit. Not only are Mr. Delay's actions not in the same ballpark, they don't even qualify as t-ball by comparison.

In the case of Mr. Delay, we aren't talking about taxpayer money and we aren't even talking about a lot of money. Compare this to what's taking place on Capitol Hill right now as taxpayer money is funneled to cronies under the guise of the stimulus. President Obama's heavy-handed transfer of wealth to the unions while cooking the books at Government Motors is certainly more egregious.

Ultimately, whether you like Mr. Delay or loathe him is irrelevant. Whether you approve of the redistricting that occurred in 2003 is a moot point. All of his policy positions in Congress, all the junkets he took with lobbyists, etc. - all of this is irrelevant. We don't send people to jail because we don't like their politics. We send them to jail because they flaunt the law beyond a reason of a doubt and violate the people's trust.

In Washington, grants are awarded every day on a quid pro quo basis, votes are bought with earmarks, etc. A month ago, I highlighted the case of Lloyd Doggett steering money to ImagineSolar in Austin to use as job training for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which in turn donated $10,000 to Mr. Doggett's campaign. That's suspect and sadly the norm for career politicians looking out for their own self-interest. You can make that case against Mr. Delay if you want, you can hold him up as an example of everything wrong with Washington, you can vote bums like him out of office, but don't go down the perilous road of criminalizing politics.

The first Al-Qaeda member to be tried in civilian court, Embassy Bomber Ahmed Ghailani, was recently acquitted on 279 of 280 counts brought by our incompetent Justice Department. He is responsible for the death and disfigurement of hundreds of people but could serve as little as 20 years. It would be a shame if somehow Mr. Delay (who can get up to 99) went to jail for longer. It would be a shame, because it would not follow the tradition of the United States but that of the Soviet Union, where perpetrators of political "crimes" always got the tougher sentences.

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