May 31, 2005, 7:00 A.M.
The Exterminator: Despite numerous pending civil and criminal actions surrounding efforts by Texas Republicans to win control of the state legislature, the architect of the plan, Tom DeLay, remains one of the most powerful politicians alive. DeLay survives amid investigations into his serious ethics violations and possible criminal indictments related to the Texas redistricting scandal. The noose seems to be drawing tighter, however and a recent decision regarding DeLay’s political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority or TRMPAC, may just be the unraveling of the DeLay power structure many are hoping for.
A Texas judge ruled Thursday that the treasurer of TRMPAC, which was formed by DeLay, the House Majority leader, had broken campaign finance laws by funneling corporate campaign donations into local campaigns aimed at unseating Democrats. The judgment awarded nearly $200,000 to five Democrats who were ousted by GOP candidates backed DeLay’s organization.
TRMPAC is credited with playing a pivotal role in winning a Republican Majority in the Texas legislature for the first time since reconstruction. DeLay’s critics believe, and have been outspoken in maintaining, that the group’s tactics were not only underhanded, but that they were illegal. This decision goes a long way in supporting those claims and stands as a was a symbolic victory for DeLay's critics, lending credence to accusations that his allies used illegal campaign finance tactics in statewide elections in their successful efforts to win a Republican majority in the state for the first time in 130 years. "This was an important first step," said Cris Feldman, an attorney for the Democratic plaintiffs. "It sheds light on the illegal acts of Texans for a Republican Majority."
In this case, Judge Joseph Hart, ruled that Bill Ceverha, treasurer of the PAC, had failed to report $532,333 in corporate donations that were spent on campaign activities rather than for administrative purposes. Under Texas law, as under federal law, corporate campaign donations are forbidden. Companies may help pay the administrative costs of certain political groups, but they cannot make contributions that help finance the campaigns themselves which is what Hart found that they actually did. He ruled that the corporate contributions "were not, in fact, 'to finance the administration' of TRMPAC and should have been reported," Ceverha will have to pay $196,660 to several Democrats unseated as a result of the committees efforts as a result of the ruling. An attorney for Ceverha called the decision wrong and promised to appeal but this decision is only on a portion of the case and larger aspects of the claims against the PAC are still pending awaiting the outcome of several other civil and criminal cases which could eventually implicate DeLay further. The criminal case, being pursued by Ronnie Earle, the Travis County district attorney, has led to the indictment of three close DeLay associates. If in fact these allegations are proven, and linked to DeLay as many believe they will be, the Speaker will begin to look more like an organized crime figure that a US representative.
DeLay was not named in the TRMPAC case, and he has maintained he did not play a role in how the group's money was raised and spent. Given his involvement in the Texas elections, his role as the architect of the Republican takeover and his apparent involvement, with the aid of some homeland security assets, in trying to locate Democrats who fled the State to avoid a quorum on the redistricting vote, it’s hard to believe that he didn’t know how the money raised to support his efforts was being spent. DeLay is, however, currently under investigation for numerous ethical violations, including funneling over $500,000.00 in campaign funds to family members, accepting trips from corporate donors and later killing legislation which they opposed as well as attempting to change House rules so that he could remain as speaker of the House even if he were indicted for his activities in Texas.
All of this comes to light now, long after the effects of DeLays activities have been felt, and long after anything can be done about it. Like New Hampshire’s own phone jamming scandal, the Texas redistricting scandal is a bell that can’t be unrung. All that can happen now is that DeLay and his cronies can be driven out of office and sent to jail where they belong. We can only hope that they are charged, tried and convicted by a truly independent judiciary and that somehow this type of criminal activity can be removed from the political landscape. It is, or should be, important to all of us how senators, congressmen and presidents get elected and how, in turn, the judges who are called upon to decide the fate of people like DeLay when they abuse the public trust are appointed.
Texas Tom is an exterminator by trade, and given his political activities I see more than a little irony in that. He recently renewed his exterminator’s license back home as required by Texas law. The licensing law seems to be one which DeLay plans to follow. I only hope that he will need that license real soon.