Entry: Ronnie Earle and the Great White Whale Thursday, September 29, 2005



Like Captain Ahab's relentless pursuit of Moby Dick, Travis County (TX) District Attorney Ronnie Earle has spent years hunting the Great Right Defendant. After hounding most Conservative Democrats out of Texas politics with his attempts to use the court where the ballot box failed, he began pursuing the Republicans who took their places. Earle's closest encounter with success so far took place in 1993. He got an indictment against Kay Bailey Hutchinson (while she was campaigning for Senator), and finally brought her to the courtroom. When he was unable to present a convincing case, Earle attempted to withdraw the charge. The judge refused to allow it, instructing the jury to return a "not guilty" verdict so the charge could not be brought against her again. Now Earle's off on a new scent; he even bragged at a Democrat fundraiser that he was out to get House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. He finally got a grand jury to return an indictment against DeLay, while a film crew follows him through every step of the case.

I'm having some trouble understanding just what it is DeLay's accused of, besides "being Tom DeLay." The indictment itself is even more vague than a Liberal explaining how he differs from a Socialist. Delay was apparently indicted for violating Section 15.02 of the Texas Penal Code. That section states: "A person commits criminal conspiracy if, with intent that a felony be committed: (1) he agrees with one or more persons that they or one or more of them engage in conduct that would constitute the offense; and (2) he or one or more of them performs an overt act in pursuance of the agreement." The statute also cautions: "An agreement constituting a conspiracy may be inferred from acts of the parties." So if Earle can just make it sound as though DeLay conspired to commit a felony, he might be able to get the case into a courtroom. All he needs is for a felony to have been committed.

Apparently, several corporations gave money to TRMPAC, a political action committee, in September 2002. Doing so is not illegal. Unfortunately, Texas law forbids money from corporations from being directly used to fund advocacy for a candidate, though it can be used to cover a campaign's administrative costs. So TRMPAC sent the money to the Republican National Committee to use for administrative purposes -- paying staff salaries, phone bills, equipment and car rentals, etc. That is also not illegal. The RNC had money from other sources, money that could be used for campaigning, that they would have used for administrative purposes. So they gave that money to several Texas campaigns. That, too, is not illegal... and wouldn't be even if, as alleged, TRMPAC told them which campaigns to help. 

That's something both the RNC and DNC do -- orchestrate national donations for local campaigns. The corporate money was used to free up money that could legitimately be used for candidate advocacy. In fact, a 2004 article by National Legal and Policy Center President Peter Flaherty pointed out that on 31 October 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." Perhaps, to keep elections in the hands of locals, exchanging money between state and national campaigns should be made illegal... but at the present time, it isn't.

The alleged illegality is that some of the corporate money was ultimately spent on things not specified by the law as "advocacy," but that might be seen as such. The Washington Post reported: "At issue in this case is whether spending corporate money on pollsters, consultants and phone banks falls under the definition of administrative costs and not 'express advocacy' for a candidate." Tom DeLay's entire involvement, as far as the indictment claims, is that he might have known that this probably-not-illegal activity was going on. I'm sure that between giving speeches and performing his duties in Congress, DeLay was spending his nights poring over TRMPAC's ledgers to personally track every penny.

Call me old-fashioned, but shouldn't someone figure out whether a given activity is even a crime before handing down indictments for possibly knowing about it? What does Ronnie Earle plan for his opening statement? "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the defendant might have broken the law, or he might not have broken the law. We aren't sure if he did anything illegal, or if anything illegal was done, but he's probably guilty anyhow. If, that is, the law was broken... which we're not quite sure it was. We sure think he's guilty of something, though. Or maybe not." That'll wow 'em. I hope for Earle's sake that Texas juries aren't armed.

In fact, this whole thing stinks like the fake Valerie Plame name-revealing scam. Remember how the Left "convicted" Karl Rove of revealing the name of a super-secret undercover spy? It turned out that she openly held a desk job at the CIA's Langley headquarters, about which all her friends and neighbors knew... and Rove never revealed a thing. Now, as then, the Left has their man tried, convicted and hanged, and they're selling souvenirs at his gravesite, but no one can say what the crime was that he supposedly committed. Without any evidence of an actual crime having taken place, and DeLay's knowledge of it, I'd be surprised if this case would normally make it to a courtroom to be shot down. Figuratively speaking.

The sad part is that it doesn't need to get to a courtroom for Earle to have done his intended damage. Tom DeLay followed the House Republican rules and stepped down as Majority Leader upon being indicted, though he could have forced a rule change that would keep him in place barring anything short of a conviction. A real conviction, that is... not the media conviction that has already taken place. For the rest of his life, even if tried and found innocent, Tom Delay's name will always be followed in the mainstream media by, "the former Republican House Majority Leader indicted for campaign finance corruption."

If only DeLay were a Democrat, his name and position would never be in jeopardy. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whose glee at DeLay's indictment led her to call Republicans "a culture of corruption," was actually promoted from Whip (second-in-command) to Leader after she was fined by the Federal Election Commission for violating fund-raising rules... something the media never mentions.

Was a crime even committed in this case? At this stage of the game, the only thing that looks criminal is Ronnie Earle's abuse of his office for political attacks. If I were writing the campaign finance laws, I would clearly spell out which activities constitute "candidate advocacy" and which are "administrative costs." But the law, as it stands, does not do so. And unlike Liberals, I am not prone to mistake my personal beliefs for written law.

Tom DeLay will probably survive this obviously partisan attack, though he is unlikely to regain his place as House Majority Leader at this point. Ronnie Earle may find himself in trouble at last, if the indictment is overturned. Remember that in the end, the Great White Whale killed the obsessed Captain Ahab.

The silver lining may be that the Republicans, having lost one of their leaders, might realise they're not secure in their majority, and stop bickering among themselves while Democrats work to divide them. They may even realise they need to keep their Conservative base happy by cutting wasteful expenditures and pork... but no, now I'm dreaming.

   4 comments

Name
October 2, 2005   08:43 AM PDT
 
Tom DeLay may well be remembered as having been indicted for campaign finance corruption, but I and many like me will always remember Slick Willy as the Democratic President who was impeached, perjured himself and was desbarred.
Laura
October 2, 2005   08:46 AM PDT
 
That's disbarred. Sorry. I get so mad sometimes I can't even spell or include my name.
JM
October 2, 2005   09:43 AM PDT
 
Well, to keep our sense of humor, let's check out WuzzaDem's hilarious take on the Republican stampede away from Tom DeLay:

http://wuzzadem.typepad.com/wuz/2005/09/running_away_wi.html
Name SueK
October 2, 2005   05:14 PM PDT
 
If I understand it correctly, Pelosi could become House party leader because the Dems party rules simply don't require the same step-down for those indicted that the Repubs require. Why don't we hear that stated more clearly? You know...sort of like the way to cut _way_ down on drug offenses is to just declare that drug use isn't an offense...

It isn't that Dems don't commit illegalities, it's just that they don't have a problem with it...

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