|‘THE HAMMER’ FALLS
Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, was convicted of illegally funneling corporate donations in Texas.
DeLay convicted of political money laundering
Ex-GOP leader calls verdict an ‘abuse of power’
WASHINGTON — Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader and the Texan architect of Republican power in Congress, was convicted yesterday of illegally funneling corporate contributions to home-state legislative candidates in 2002.
A jury in Austin found DeLay guilty of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Punishment for the first ranges from five years to life in prison, but the former congressman from the Houston suburb of Sugar Land could receive probation.
DeLay will remain free until he is sentenced on Dec. 20.
“This case is a message from the people of the state of Texas that they want — and expect — honesty and ethics in their public officials,’’ Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said. “All people have to abide by the law.’’
Reporters in the courtroom described DeLay as stunned by the verdict, which came after 19 hours of deliberation.
“This is an abuse of power,’’ the former congressman said outside the courtroom. “It’s a miscarriage of justice . . . I am innocent. The criminalization of politics undermines our very system, and I am very disappointed in the outcome.’’
The conviction follows years of investigation of DeLay, 63, who came to symbolize the intersection of money and politics in Washington. He made a mission of solidifying the Republican majority in Congress, and his ability to raise campaign cash was part of his power and eventual downfall.
DeLay for a time was the Republicans’ chief vote-counter and patronage dispenser, and he earned his nickname, “The Hammer,’’ for the dictatorial style with which he commanded House Republicans and tormented President Bill Clinton and Democrats.
Over three weeks, prosecutors presented more than 30 witnesses and volumes of documents to describe a campaign-finance scheme that benefited Texas legislative candidates but was aimed at cementing GOP power in Congress.
They said a political action committee that DeLay started in Texas solicited $190,000 from corporate interests and sent it to an arm of the Republican National Committee. They said that group then distributed the money to seven legislative candidates in an effort to skirt Texas law, which forbids corporate contributions to political campaigns.
Prosecutors said that the money helped the GOP win control of the Texas House, and that the majority then passed a DeLay-organized congressional redistricting plan that sent more Republicans to Congress.
“There is nothing wrong with Republicans trying to dominate the political world,’’ prosecutor Beverly Mathews told jurors when the trial opened. “But the means to achieve that gain must be lawful.’’
DeLay’s attorney, noted Texas lawyer Dick DeGuerin, denied that his client had conspired with associates Jim Ellis and John Colyandro to subvert Texas law. He acknowledged that the same amount of money DeLay sent to Washington came back to Texas, but he said the money from the RNC group was from individual contributors, which is legal under state law.
“It’s not the same money,’’ DeGuerin told jurors in opening arguments. “No money was laundered.’’