Travis County, Texas District Attorney Ronnie Earle made his case to the state Court of Criminal Appeals today. Earle claims that Tom DeLay and others conspired to funnel corporate PAC money to individual State Senate and House campaigns in the 2002 election. It goes hand in hand with his money laundering charges.
By law, corporate PAC money cannot be used to fund individual campaigns, but only to offset some housekeeping expenses like buying paper clips and post-its. That this money was eventually used to fund glossy mailouts for the 2002 election, which helped elect a Republican majority, is the big issue. That and the fact that it was a crime that was planned in advance.
Where’s the rub? Well it turns out that the conspiracy part of the law wasn’t enacted until a year after the crime was committed. DeLay’s lawyers argue that you can’t file charges on a crime committed before it was specifically identified as a crime.
Earle argues that conspiracy law is on the books, just in another set of books. The restrictions on corporate PAC contributions are found in the Texas Election Code. The crime of criminal conspiracy is found in the Texas Penal Code. Tom DeLay’s lawyers say that the existence of a later conspiracy addition to the Election Code means that it really wasn’t a crime of conspiracy before 2003. That is, they made it a special case in ’03, so the Penal Code’s anti-conspiracy law can’t be used.
I have to admit, they’ve got a lot of nerve. Tom DeLay is at it again. According to this logic now, we have to come up with specific laws that govern conspiracy. If it becomes a crime to conspire to steal aspirin from a pharmacy in 2007, you can’t be charged with the crime committed in 2006 even though there is a blanket conspiracy law on the books.
Earle is right. A ruling in DeLay’s favor puts all conspiracy law at risk. We have to anticipate every single crime that could be committed, and pass a law making it a crime to conspire to do it. Texans are exposed to all sorts of criminal behavior. If the conspiracy law cannot be used as a blanket law covering all crime in all Texas codes, we are in deep trouble.
It reminds me of Lily Tomlin’s character that she played on “Laugh In” several decades ago. My favorite of all time is a scene of her swinging on a swing singing “Nobody told me not to mow the carpet”, a little ditty where she complained about being punished for doing something not specifically forbidden.
Tom DeLay and five year old Edith Ann, Tomlin’s character, share common logic and reason.
Trouble is, it will make a horrible precedent.
DeLay’s lawyers are confident in beating this one off. I wouldn’t count on it. People in this state, and it doesn’t matter of what party affiliation, are mad as H-E-Double Hockey Sticks at him. That he’s now trying to undermine our laws so that he can beat a conspiracy charge tips the scales.