Tom DeLay Conviction Reversed

Stunning news from Texas today:  the money-laundering conviction of former House Majority Leader Tom “The Hammer” DeLay has been overturned by the state court of appeals.  DeLay had been convicted by a jury in November 2012 and sentenced to three years in prison.  When sentenced, DeLay had told the judge, “I can’t be remorseful for something I don’t think I did.”  (Remorse has never been DeLay’s strong suit — just ask the family of Terry Schiavo).

In 2002, seeking to engineer a Republican takeover of the Texas legislature, DeLay got creative with campaign financing.   His Texas PAC, Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) had received $190,000 in corporate contributions.  Texas law, however, barred corporations from donating money to state candidates.  DeLay arranged a quid-pro-quo with the national Republican party, in which the Republican National State Elections Committee (RNSEC) would take the $190,000 in corporate contributions from TRMPAC, and then disburse (from a separate account) $190,000 in individual contributions to seven GOP candidates in Texas.

The state argued that DeLay’s agreement with others to “swap” the funds intending them to be used in a Texas campaign, and that this was a crime under the election code.  As a result, the funds were dirty, and the exchange of these “dirty”  funds for “clean” funds from the RNC amounted to money laundering.  It was a novel and aggressive theory of prosecution, and went too far for the court of appeals.

The appellate court placed great emphasis on the fact that money laundering first requires a predicate act — in other words, that the funds first had to be the proceeds of  criminal activity BEFORE  they were laundered.  The court found, however, that under the state’s theory, it was the laundering itself that would have converted the legal corporate donations to the PAC to  illegal corporate donations to candidates:  “Here, the funds were only ‘derived from’ the money-swap agreement after the transactions were complete, if at all.”  The court also emphasized that the funds from the different accounts had never been comingled.  Because there can be no money laundering if the laundered funds were clean, the court found that no crime occurred.

DeLay thanked God for his acquittal, rather than his attorneys or the Court of Appeals.  Prosecutors intend to petition the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to review the decision.

The full text of the decision can be found here.

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