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Technicality May Keep Tom Delay Out of Jail

August 25, 2008

Almost three years after his indictment on conspiracy and money laundering charges, former House Majority Leader Tom Delay may escape prosecution. Thanks to a technicality in Texas' money laundering statute, the man who once compared himself to Jesus may walk out of court, if not on water.
The Austin Statesman reported this morning that the charges against Delay and his two co-conspirators John Colyandro and Jim Ellis "may be dismissed because the 2002 campaign finance case involved checks and not cash." Delay's possible get-out-of-jail free card, the paper reported, may be found in the fine print of the state's 1993 law:

The state's 3rd Court of Appeals on Friday actually upheld the money-laundering indictments against DeLay's two campaign associates, John Colyandro of Austin and Jim Ellis of Washington.
But the ruling contained a silver lining for the trio's lawyers because it concluded that the state's money-laundering statute - written in 1993 to combat illicit drug activity by focusing on the cash in the criminal transactions - did not apply to checks at the time DeLay is accused of laundering corporate money into campaign donations

Should the Texas' courts ultimately rule in his favor, it would mark the second time Delay would be beneficiary of legal technicalities. In December 2005, a Texas judge threw out a charge of conspiracy to violate the election code by making an illegal corporate contribution. That ruling was upheld by an appeals court panel which concluded that timing is indeed everything:

Last summer the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals confirmed the dismissal of a separate indictment against DeLay and his associates on a charge of conspiring to violate the state election code. The court ruled that conspiracy did not apply to election code violations until 2003 - a year after the $190,000 exchange - when the Legislature changed the law.

Delay's indictment arose from his unprecedented - and successful - 2002 scheme to redesign Texas state legislative districts to ensure a Republican majority in the state. Since Texas law forbids corporate contributions to candidates, Delay's co-defendant Colyandro sent $190,000 in checks collected by Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) to the Republican National Committee. Days later, the RNC then funneled the $190,000 directly back to seven GOP candidates. Ultimately, the gambit worked perfectly, as Delay's new map produced a 21-11 Republican majority in 2004, a sweeping change from the 17-15 Democratic edge previously. (In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Delay's redistricting dirty work by a 7-2 vote.)
Once again, it's looking like Tom Delay will get away with it. Having left the House of Representatives in disgrace, the pioneer of the Republican "criminalization of politics" defense may yet enjoy a political resurrection. Given his past comparisons to Christ and his insistence that God speaks to him, Tom Delay will no doubt consider that altogether fitting.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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