Political Hay

Texas Smear Machine Targets DeLay

Those obnoxious Travis County Democrats sure do think big.

By 9.23.04

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If nothing else, you have to give Travis County Democrats credit for thinking big, like real Texans. Apparently undaunted that the assault on President Bush's National Guard service blew up in their faces, they are now trying to bring down House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

All roads in the CBS memo scandal traverse Travis County. Dan Rather was the special guest at a 2001 fundraiser for the Travis County Democratic Party, and his daughter is active in the organization. Former National Guardsman Bill Burkett, the unstable Bush-baiter, who now claims he was the source of the forged documents, is represented (and many believe directed) by David Van Os, the former Travis County Democratic Party chairman.

Now Travis County district attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat with a history of bringing politically motivated indictments, has indicted three DeLay aides who ran a political action committee called Texans for a Republican Majority PAC. Perhaps recognizing that indicting DeLay himself 41 days before an election would be just too transparent, Earle instead indicted the three underlings for allegedly directing corporate contributions to Texas legislative candidates in 2002.

At stake in 2002 was control of the Texas legislature, which was to redraw congressional district lines. Corporate contributions to legislative candidates are illegal in Texas. The DeLay aides stand accused of violating that prohibition, along with eight companies like Sears Roebuck that provided the funds. The corporate money, however, never went to the candidates. Instead, it went to a much larger fund for state elections controlled by the Republican National Committee in Washington. That committee made contributions to Texas legislative candidates, constituting what Earle now charges is "money laundering."

The only problem is that similar transactions are conducted by both parties in many states, including Texas. In fact, on October 31, 2002, the Texas Democratic Party sent the Democratic National Committee (DNC) $75,000, and on the same day, the DNC sent the Texas Democratic Party $75,000. On July 19, 2001, the Texas Democratic Party sent the DNC $50,000 and, again on the same day, the DNC sent the Texas Democratic Party $60,000. On June 8, 2001, the Texas Democratic Party sent the DNC $50,000. That very same day, the DNC sent the Texas Democratic Party $60,000.

EARLE'S LAST FORAY INTO politicized prosecution in 1993 turned into a huge embarrassment when he went after Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), who was then Texas Treasurer. Earle made a series of trumped-up charges, including that the demure Hutchison had physically assaulted an employee. Earle dropped the case during the trial.

DeLay has been the target of previous legal harassment. Four years ago, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, under the chairmanship of Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), filed a lawsuit under RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. RICO was designed as a tool against organized crime, but Kennedy argued that DeLay's relationships with Washington lobbyists amounted to "extortion." Even some liberal commentators criticized the suit as frivolous. It was eventually thrown out.

This year, lame duck Rep. Chris Bell (D-TX), who lost a March primary, filed a Complaint with the House Ethics Committee, citing many of the same circumstances in the Earle indictments. For good measure, Bell echoed Kennedy's "extortion" allegations and claimed DeLay "misused" his office by asking the Federal Aviation Administration and Justice Department to help find Texas legislators who fled to Oklahoma to deny Republicans a quorum needed to pass the redistricting plan. Since Bell had, in effect, been redistricted out of his seat, his allegations were colored, but did not stop the media from repeating them.

IRONICALLY, DELAY'S DEMOCRATIC counterpart in the House, Nancy Pelosi, has been involved in wholesale and indisputable election law violations, but has been absent from the headlines. Pelosi is a champion of what is called "campaign finance reform." The clearest and most fundamental tenet of current election law is the limitation of contributions. Yet, Pelosi's committees have engaged in a massive circumvention of the limitation, even as Pelosi was a key player in passing additional "reform" measures such as McCain-Feingold.

Earlier this year, the Federal Election Commission fined two so-called leadership PACs associated with Pelosi in response to a Complaint by the National Legal and Policy Center. The purpose of leadership PACs is to make contributions to the campaigns of other Congressional candidates. House and Senate Leaders are allowed one leadership PAC in addition to their own campaign committee.

Pelosi set up two. Her second PAC made $5,000 contributions to thirty-six campaigns that had already received the $5,000 maximum from the first. The treasurer of both PACs candidly admitted that the "main reason" for setting up the second PAC was to "give twice as much (sic) hard dollars."

Some of the enmity directed at DeLay results from his success in the Texas redistricting. It is rank hypocrisy to suggest that his actions are unprecedented or inappropriate. After all, the King of Redistricting is still the late Democratic Rep. Phil Burton of California. In a 2003 tribute, Pelosi gushed, "his true artistry was displayed when it came to redistricting. One press account described it as 'Phil Burton's contribution to modern art.' For almost three decades, he painted the political landscape of Californians in the House from his palette."

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About the Author

Peter Flaherty is president of the National Legal and Policy Center, a foundation promoting ethics in public life. The group sponsors the Government Integrity Project.