Messenger of Jesus Goes on Trial in Texas
As a police photographer snapped his mug shot back in 2005, former House Majority Leader Tom Delay prayed, "Let people see Christ through me." Now, five years after he was indicted for money laundering, Delay's trial has finally begun in Austin, Texas. And while he may not walk on water, Tom Delay may yet walk out of court a free man.
His supporters might be forgiven for assuming he could do both. In 2001, The Hammer compared himself to The Carpenter, insisting, "People hate the messenger. That's why they killed Christ." Perhaps, but as Travis County prosecutors explained today, that's not why Delay was indicted:
Travis County prosecutor Beverly Mathews said DeLay and two associates -- Jim Ellis and John Colyandro -- illegally funneled $190,000 in corporate money, which had been collected by a group DeLay started, through the Washington-based Republican National Committee to help elect GOP state legislative candidates in 2002. Under Texas law, corporate money cannot be directly used for political campaigns.
"The evidence will show you they took the corporate money they knew could not be given and came up with a scheme where that dirty money could be turned clean and given to candidates," Mathews said.
And to be sure, those candidates did very, very well. Bankrolled by Tom Delay and his Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), the GOP not only dominated the Texas legislature after 2002. The next year, they took the unprecedented step of redrawing the state's Congressional districts to ensure a solid Republican delegation in Washington, DC. The new map produced a 21-11 Republican majority in 2004, a sweeping change from the 17-15 Democratic edge previously. (In June 2006, the United States Supreme Court blessed that previously unheard of redistricting scheme.)
In court, prosecutor Mathews argued, "There is nothing wrong with Republicans trying to dominate the political world, but the means to achieve that gain must be lawful."
Of course, Delay and his attorney insisted they were:
Dick DeGuerin acknowledged DeLay's political action committee sent $190,000 in corporate money to an arm of the Republican National Committee and that the national committee used money collected from individual donations to send $190,000 to seven Texas GOP candidates.
"It's not the same money. No money was laundered," DeGuerin said. As DeGuerin spoke to jurors, a television screen next to him displayed the words: "No corporate money went to candidates in Texas."
That remains for the court to decide.
Regardless, Tom Delay's career reveals that the man who came to DC to bring "a biblical worldview to government" time and again showed he's clearly on the side of the money-changers. Delay counts among his "closest and dearest friends" the twice-convicted felon and Republican lobbyist extraordinaire Jack Abramoff. In 2006, former Delay deputy chief of staff Tony Rudy pled guilty to conspiracy charges. He joined another former Delay staffer and one-time Abramoff partner in pleading guilty. Hot Tub Tom's former chief of staff, Edwin Buckham, extracted over $1 million from Delay's charity, the U.S. Family Network, a non-profit launched while he was still in Delay's employ. And in 2001, Delay's wife and daughter hauled in over $500,000 from his political action and campaign committees. (That was three years before a House ethics panel reprimanded Delay on four counts arising from his arm-twisting during the crooked 2003 Medicare drug plan vote.)
For his part, Tom Delay is unrepentant and ready for battle. When Delay isn't proclaiming "there's no one denied health care in America" or that people are unemployed because they want to be, he's writing a tell-all book and raising money for his Coalition for a Conservative Majority. A 2007 New Yorker profile of Delay explained why:
"God has spoken to me," he said. "I listen to God, and what I've heard is that I'm supposed to devote myself to rebuilding the conservative base of the Republican Party, and I think we shouldn't be underestimated."
But soon, the man Pastor Rick Scarborough said " God has appointed...to represent righteousness in government" will be hearing instead from a jury.