Tom Delay gives me no reason to defend him, especially after his recent statements that there was no more fat left to trim in the budget because Republicans had, “pared it down pretty good.” But based on what I’ve read so far, it does not seem like by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has much on him. As the Washington Post (no fan of Delay) editorialized today:
Nonetheless, at least on the evidence presented so far, the indictment of Mr. DeLay by a state prosecutor in Texas gives us pause. The charge concerns the activities of Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), a political action committee created by Mr. DeLay and his aides to orchestrate the GOP’s takeover of the Texas legislature in 2002. The issue is whether Mr. DeLay and his political aides illegally used the group to evade the state’s ban on corporate contributions to candidates. The indictment alleges that TRMPAC took $155,000 in corporate contributions and then sent a check for $190,000 to the national Republican Party’s “soft money” arm. The national committee then wrote $190,000 in checks from its noncorporate accounts to seven Texas candidates. Perhaps most damning, TRMPAC dictated the precise amount and recipients of those donations.
This was an obvious end run around the corporate contribution rule. The more difficult question is whether it was an illegal end run — or, to be more precise, one so blatantly illegal that it amounts to a criminal felony rather than a civil violation. For Mr. DeLay to be convicted, prosecutors will have to show not only that he took part in the dodge but also that he knew it amounted to a violation of state law — rather than the kind of clever money-trade that election lawyers engineer all the time.
If more conclusive evidence emerges pointing toward wrongdoing by Delay, I will freely join the chorus of outrage sure to follow. But as of now, I remain unconvinced.