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10/01/2005

What was Tom Delay's Crime?

Other than conspiracy, the indictment against Representative Tom Delay does not specify the exact crime that he committed. David Frum's excellent column yesterday discusses a very fundamental objection to the case raised by E. J. Dionne.

[E.J.] Dionne this morning puts his finger on the central and hopeless flaw in the case against DeLay: "The corporations that forked over the cash to DeLay's PAC did so not because their hearts were filled with affection for those particular Texas legislative candidates but because they recognized DeLay's power over federal legislation." (Italics addes.)

Texas law forbids corporations to give money to state candidates. The case against DeLay charges that he conspired with corporations to help them circumvent this law by routing the money through political action committees he controlled. But as Dionne acknowledges, the corporations in question did not care about Texas politics. They wanted to give to DeLay's political action committees, which was perfectly legal. It was DeLay who wanted to support the Texas candidates - which was also perfectly legal. The only way you can link these two legal transactions into one illegal transaction is by claiming that the corporations wanted to break the law. Dionne - his reporter's instincts trumping his partisan zeal - admits that of course the corporations had no such desire, and so there was no crime.

To put this into simpler terms. Suppose a corporation hired Dionne to give a speech at their next annual meeting. Dionne then turns around and gives his fee to Democratic candidates for the Texas legislature. Has any law been broken? Obviously not. The corporation does not intend to help Texas candidates: It does so only inadvertently and indirectly, as a consequence of Dionne's decisions.. . . .

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