Tom DeLay broke the law in order to grab power. That’s unusual — most politicians steal money.
The former U.S. House majority leader and two others were accused of illegally laundering corporate donations to his Texans for a Republican Majority PAC through the Republican National Committee, which in turn sent a like amount of noncorporate cash to seven Texas candidates chosen by the PAC. Republicans went on to win a majority in the Texas House in those 2002 elections, and the criminal investigations of how they did it began a few months later.
DeLay’s trial started eight years after that and more than four years after he left office. The jury found him guilty of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. What makes the case peculiar is that DeLay wasn’t accused of trying to get rich. Contrast his case with other active rap sheets in Texas politics right now.
State Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, has been convicted on charges of perjury and tampering with government records — he didn’t properly report his income and assets on financial disclosure forms. His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 13. He didn’t seek re-election this year, and his term will end in January.
Former state Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, pleaded guilty earlier this year to a charge of under-reporting her income on tax returns. She got snared in a federal investigation of influence peddling in Dallas city government and stood accused of writing letters on behalf of a developer of low-income housing who had, in return, paid her rent and other bills and carpeted her house. Those charges were dropped as part of her plea agreement, and she was sentenced to a year in federal prison.
State Rep. Tara Rios Ybarra, D-South Padre Island, is under indictment on charges she and several other dentists defrauded Medicaid. She has denied any wrongdoing. Her trial date hasn’t been set, but she lost the Democratic primary for re-election to the House.
It turns out that the highly competitive political arena is not a great place to hide, even when voters hear the worst and ignore it. Political opponents are scrounging for dirt. While it doesn’t always work out for the challengers, the courts sometimes pick up where the electoral process left off.
State R. Joe Driver, R-Garland, ran for re-election this year in the wake of disclosures that he billed the state for official trips that were also reimbursed by his campaign. He repaid some of the money, blamed the transgressions on bad accounting and cruised to an Election Day win.
The Democrat who was challenging state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, tried to make an issue of his outstanding federal tax liens. Voters didn’t go for it; Anderson will return to the Capitol next year.
State Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, admitted driving a Mercedes Benz owned by her husband’s employer, who does business with the state. She won anyway.
Now that they’re back in office, they’ll find out whether their transgressions generated any interest in their local prosecutors’ offices.
All of those officials were accused of doing something for financial advantage: lining their pockets, double-dipping on expenses, cheating on taxes. DeLay’s case is different. He wasn't trying to get rich; he was trying to win a political fight, to gain power for himself and his party. He won, at first. His PAC helped win the GOP its first majority in the Texas House since Reconstruction.
The Republican Party, in turn, elected a speaker, redrew a congressional redistricting map that had been drawn by a panel of judges, upended the political careers of a handful of Texas Democrats and gave the national Republican Party a majority in Congress. DeLay was elected majority leader.
Eight years later, DeLay’s political career is over. He’s had his perp walk, taken his lumps on Dancing with the Stars and gone on trial for the PAC’s transgressions during the 2002 elections. He is done — but his maps are still in place. The Texas congressional delegation, which stood at 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans before the maps were in place, now has 23 Republicans and only 9 Democrats. The only verdict that really matters had already been returned before the criminal case went to the jury.
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