DeLay’s injured innocence

Just what part of “corporate contributions to political candidates in Texas are illegal” needs to be more clearly explained?

Texas law forbids corporate contributions to state-level election contests. According to the indictmenthanded up yesterday, DeLay and his cronies at TRMPAC collected corporate contributions totalling $190,000 and donated that sum to an arm of the Republican National Committee, which turned around and donated exactly $190,000 to seven designated candidates for the Texas legislature.

Of course it’s an article of faith among GOP loyalists that DeLay is innocent. But so far I haven’t seen any of them, or DeLay himself, specify exactly what DeLay is supposed to be innocent of. The logical possibilities are:

1. DeLay is guilty as charged and the prosecutor can prove it beyond reasonable doubt.

2. The alleged transactions never took place.

(a) The corporations made no such contributions to TRMPAC; or

(b) TRMPAC never made the contribution to the Republican National State Elections Committee; or

(c) The RNSEC never made the corresponding contributions to the legislative candidates.

3. The transactions took place, but didn’t violate any law; Texas law allows otherwise illegal contributions to be laundered through Washington.

4. The transactions took place, but were merely coincidental: it just happened that the companies gave to TRMPAC, TRMPAC gave to the RNSEC, and the RNSEC just happened to make precisely equivalent contributions to the legislative candidates.

5. TRMPAC orchestrated a violation of the law, but DeLay had no knowledge of that fact.

6. TRMPAC orchestrated a violation of the law, and DeLay knew of the facts but not of their illegality, and therefore didn’t “conspire.”

7. It’s all true, but the prosecutor can’t prove one or more of the elments beyond reasonable doubt.

Now we know (2) to be false; the transactions are public record. A Texas judge has already ruled that (3) is wrong; the law means what it says. If you believe (4), can I sell you a nice bridge? Anyway, some of the companies that were shaken down apparently will testify that they were told by TRMPAC officials how the daisy chain was going to work.

That leaves (5), (6), or (7) as the only alternatives to (1). Each of them is one variety or another of “beating the rap on a technicality,” and none of them, therefore, is really consistent with DeLay’s own claim:

“My defense in this case will not be technical or legalistic,” DeLay said. ”It will be categorical and absolute. I am innocent; Mr. Earle and his staff know it, and I will prove it.”

It’s hard to see how Ronnie Earle could possibly “know” that DeLay was “innocent” of what was obviously an illlegal act committed through the agency of an organization he founded and, in effect, directed. He might be technically innocent, either because he didn’t know what was going on or because he didn’t know it was against the law, or he might not be provably guilty.

At best, DeLay will be offering the defense of the man who played the piano for twenty years in the parlor of a fancy bordello but claimed he had no idea of what was going on upstairs. It may suffice to keep him out of prison. But all the right-wing whining about an innocent man’s being politically persecuted fails to convince.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: