Week two of the Delay trial underway

Last week we wrote a little about what was happening in the early days of Tom Delay’s criminal trial.  To recap and then sum up last week, in their opening statements, prosecutors said that Tom DeLay took part in a scheme to illegally channel corporate money into Texas legislative races in order to strengthen his power and influence. 

As a result of DeLay’s scheme, Republicans won a majority in the Texas House and then pushed through a congressional redistricting plan engineered by DeLay that would strengthen the Republican hold on Texas. Republicans won a majority in the Texas House in 2002 and congressional redistricting sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004.

The 2003 redistricting was extremely controversial, particularly because of the role played by Delay. Texas had never undertaken redistricting mid-decade without it being ordered by a court. Legal challenges to the redistricting plan were mounted on several fronts. In 2006, the Supreme Court upheld the statewide redistricting as Constitutional, but struck down Congressional District 23 as being in violation of the Voting Rights Act’s prohibition of racial gerrymandering.

While it is certainly the right of Republicans to try to dominate the political world, they must still play by the rules and do so in a way that is lawful, thus this trial.  Under a hundred year old Texas law, corporate money cannot be directly used for political campaigns.  However, the prosecution contends that DeLay and two associates, Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, collected $190,000 in corporate money through the Texas Republican Majority PAC (TRMPAC), a group DeLay started.  The prosecution believes that Delay and his associates took the corporate money and came up with a scheme where that money could be re-routed and given to candidates. The $190,000 was exchanged for the same amount through the Republican National Committee and ultimately given to seven Texas candidates.

The defense acknowledged DeLay’s political action committee sent $190,000 in corporate money to an arm of the Republican National Committee and that the national committee used money collected from individual donations to send $190,000 to seven Texas GOP candidates.  They then insist that it’s not the same money, that no money was laundered, and Delay is only guilty of being a good politician.  But if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . .

Representatives from two political watchdogs have already testified that they filed complaints with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office seeking an investigation into DeLay’s PAC for allegedly using corporate money for political candidates.  On the first day of the trial, Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice (and former director of the Texas office of Public Citizen) was questioned about candidate names on Public Citizen’s website.

On Tuesday and into Wednesday, Tom Delay’s daughter, Danielle DeLay Garcia, was questioned by the prosecution, telling jurors about her time working as an event planner for his political action committee, and denying prosecution claims that her father was the driving force behind the group.  She insisted that he was more involved with the Washington-based leadership PAC that he ran.

Following the Republican election victories on Tuesday, Tom DeLay’s mood brightened and he told reporters that — assuming he isn’t convicted — he wants to get back into politics after his ongoing corruption trial ends and would have like to have been a leader in this election.

The trial continued on Thursday with a former Republican National Committee official, Terry Nelson, who had been the executive director of political operations for the Washington-based RNC, telling jurors he didn’t believe anything illegal was done when the RNC exchanged $190,000 in corporate donations raised by the ex-House majority leader’s political action committee, saying such money swaps were common, but while he had done similar swaps with state parties, he had never done one with a PAC. He also said the transaction was unusual because the PAC had provided a list of seven candidates to whom it wanted the funds to go.

Nelson said the swap was also unusual because Ellis proposed a dollar for dollar exchange rate. In such swaps, corporate dollars are usually worth less because of spending restrictions they have.  Nevertheless, after the transaction was approved, the RNC sent checks that totaled $190,000 to the seven Texas legislative candidates whose names were submitted by Ellis.

Earlier Thursday as they questioned Warren Robold, the PAC’s fundraiser, prosecutors showed jurors a series of e-mails that indicated that in the weeks leading up to the 2002 elections in Texas, the political group was having great difficulty raising money from individual donors and that it turned its focus on getting more corporate donations.

Robold had been indicted on charges of accepting illegal corporate contributions as part of the alleged scheme, but the charges were dismissed earlier this year and Robold told the jury his testimony was not part of any agreement.

Testimony in this trial continues today as the second week of the trial began with prosecutors questioning a former official with liquor distributor Bacardi-Martini USA Inc. about a $20,000 corporate donation his company made to DeLay’s political action committee. 

The trial is expected to last at least three weeks.

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