The Austin Chronicle

TRMPAC Forever

By Michael King, May 7, 2010, News

In the wake of a state Court of Criminal Appeals decision last week, Tom DeLay may have to stand trial after all – eventually.

In the dim reaches of time, roughly 10 years ago, before he was a superannuated and failed TV dance contestant, DeLay was the most powerful man in the U.S. House. As the GOP's majority leader, he engineered a redistricting of first the state Legislature and subsequently Texas congressional districts, with the considerable help of a finely tuned campaign fundraising operation. That operation eventually became the subject of several indictments for violating Texas campaign finance laws, in this instance a pending case against DeLay associates John Coly­an­dro and Jim Ellis for allegedly laundering $190,000 in corporate donations to Texans for a Republican Majority (aka TRMPAC), via the Republican National Committee, to state legislative candidates – despite a state law banning corporate or union donations to legislative campaigns.

On April 28 the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled – in a 9-0 decision recorded in a highly technical opinion written by presiding Judge Sharon Keller – that the 3rd Court of Appeals had erred in ruling that the ban on "cash" (or similar) donations did not necessarily include "checks"; the Court of Criminal Appeals also ruled that the state's campaign finance law is not unconstitutionally vague. (The court also didn't buy the defense's attempt to link this case to the recent Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision, because that ruling concerned independent corporate expenditures, not contributions to candidates.)

In theory, that means that Colyandro and Ellis – and DeLay, who has separate counsel, Houston's Dick DeGuerin – will have to stand trial on the money-laundering charges. DeLay issued a statement saying he's eager to go to trial and be vindicated, and Ellis' lawyer, J.D. Pauerstein, told the Statesman's Laylan Copelin that he also anticipates a trial. Not so fast, said Colyandro counsel Joe Turner, with a lawyer's flourish – "We're not paid to take no for an answer," he told Cope­lin – so the matter may be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where they can spend time arguing whether checks really are money, or whether campaign committees should instead return to the gold standard.

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehm­berg says she intends to prosecute this case (perhaps with promised pro bono help from her predecessor, Ronnie Earle), but by the time she's allowed to do so, the next great Texas re-redistricting battle will be onstage at the Capitol, and even fewer people will remember Taxi-Dancer Tom DeLay.

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