A Texas jury decided to nail the hammer to the wall. After less than twenty hours of deliberations, twelve citizens, six men and six women, convicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of illegally directing $190,000 in corporate political donations to Republican candidates for the Texas State Legislature. DeLay faces up to ninety-nine years in jail.
DeLay, always the optimist, stated that he would be cleared of these money laundering charges at trial. He contended that his indictment was politically motivated and has plans to appeal the conviction. Prosecutors deny that the charges have anything to do with partisan politics.
Tom "The Hammer" DeLay first caught the nation's attention when he swept into power in 1994 as a principal player in the Republican Revolution. DeLay, no stranger to controversy, has also been under investigation for his relationship with infamous lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to charges of bribery, tax evasion and fraud.
His trial gave the public a glimpse into the sometimes unseemly campaign finance practices of Washington, D.C. Jurors were regaled with tales of huge sums of corporate money flowing freely throughout the political system. The jurors heard stories of meetings members of congress agreed to have with lobbyists in return for large contributions.
So what's the problem? Doesn't money always flow relatively freely in the political system? Yes, but the problem in this case is that Texas has a century old law prohibiting corporate contributions to candidates. Prosecutors charged DeLay with funneling nearly $200,000 in corporate contributions through the Republican National Committee to state legislative candidates.
Prosecutors, however, did not prosecute DeLay for violating that law, finding that there was no way to charge someone with conspiracy for such a violation. Prosecutors instead opted to charge DeLay with money laundering.
The evidence, consisting almost exclusively of circumstantial evidence, was enough to convince the twelve jurors of varying political affiliations.
The difficulty of this prosecution and the harmfulness of the underlying facts to the integrity of the electoral and political processes give fuel to an argument that at least eight members of our Supreme Court seem to agree with: disclosure of campaign funds is vitally important. Disclosure not only tells the public where candidates and committees are getting their money from, and hence to whom they may be responsive, but also helps to detect violations of existing laws.
The Disclose Act now stands before our lame duck Congress. While it would not have affected DeLay's trial, it is an important step toward trying to repair public confidence in a representative democracy too often shaken by political scandal. Let's throw a little sunlight into the sometimes dark world of financing political campaigns.