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DeLay's Appeal Hinges on What "Funds" Are

Attorneys for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Sugar Land Republican convicted two years ago on conspiracy and money-laundering charges, took his appeal to court on Wednesday.

Tom DeLay, shown after his trial in 2011. DeLay, who was convicted of conspiracy and money-laundering, was found innocent of all charges by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2014.

Attorneys for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay appealed his conviction on conspiracy and money laundering charges Wednesday, telling three appellate judges that the charges rest on a misreading of election and campaign finance law.

DeLay, a Sugar Land Republican, was convicted almost two years ago on charges that he conspired to violate campaign finance laws and that he and the Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, or TRMPAC, laundered money by swapping corporate contributions that couldn’t be used for campaigns for non-corporate donations that could be used. He was sentenced to three years in prison and five years of community service.

Lawyers on both sides expect the ruling from Austin’s 3rd Court of Appeals, which heard the case Wednesday, to be appealed to the state’s highest criminal court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. DeLay did not attend Wednesday's hearing.

DeLay and that political action committee helped engineer a Republican surge in the 2002 elections; the legislators elected then installed the first Republican speaker of the House since Reconstruction, and redrew the political maps in Texas to give Republicans an advantage in future elections. 

The political operation was successful, but has been a source of constant legal fighting ever since. The long and winding criminal case hinges now on legal points — whether checks are "funds" under this particular law, whether legally contributed corporate money can be converted somehow into illegal use of funds and whether the idea of trying to work around this particular set of election laws was an illegal conspiracy or just a group of campaign officials trying to find loopholes and shortcuts that would give them an advantage.

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