EXIT DELAY—On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Tom DeLay’s political career came full circle in an Austin courthouse five blocks south of the Capitol building where his career began in 1979. The former majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives was found guilty of money laundering and conspiracy to engage in money laundering.
Executives from El Paso (energy) Corp., Reliant Energy, Cracker Barrel Country Stores, Sears, Bacardi, Phillip Morris, Diversified Collections, and Westar testified about corporate contributions they had made to DeLay’s leadership PAC in Washington, and to the Texas PAC DeLay set up in 2001. The contributions ranged from $25,000 to $100,000.
If the corporate, (“soft”) money raised from these sources could be processed through bank accounts and magically transformed into (“hard”) money raised from individual donors — as DeLay and his conspirators had done in 2002 with $190,000 — the state’s ban on corporate funding of elections would have been rendered meaningless.
In convicting DeLay the jury vindicated the state’s election law. The ban on corporate money stands, unless the Texas Legislature dismantles in when it convenes in January, which will be too late for DeLay. On the day the jury handed down its verdict, DeLay left the Austin Lone Star RV Resort, at the wheel of the recreational vehicle in which he and his wife had been living during the three-week trial.
He returns to Austin for sentencing on December 20. He faces five to 99 years in prison.
BOEHNER INC.—In an indirect way, DeLay’s jurors also sat in judgment of the funding operation the Washington press corps once referred to as “DeLay Inc.”
Before DeLay left the Congress after his 2005 indictment, his national leadership PAC was raising far more money than any of its Republican or Democratic counterparts. The corporate executives the prosecution put on the stand had been some of DeLay Inc.’s biggest and most reliable investors.
In his closing argument, Travis County Assistant District Attorney Gary Cobb worked his way through DeLay’s calendar, linking political contributions made by those corporate execs to private meetings with DeLay, often aboard corporate jets they provided for DeLay’s political (and golfing) travel.
John Boehner, who becomes Republican Majority Leader in January, now works DeLay’s donor base. Boehner’s leadership PAC raised $2.3 million in the last quarter of 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And the New York Times reports that Boehner raised $44 million for Republican candidates in 2010. Former DeLay aide Drew Maloney, who is now a lobbyist and was subpoenaed to testify in DeLay’s trial, is a fundraiser for Boehner.
NO SWEAT—On the final day of testimony in the DeLay trial, the names Jack Abramoff and Willie Tan appeared on the courtroom video screen. They had been scheduled for an appointment in DeLay’s Capitol office, on August 2, 2002. Their names appeared on the screen because the prosecution referenced a separate meeting on the same day.
Abramoff, then a lobbyist, is best known for defrauding six Indian tribes, who were his clients, of almost $100 million. Abramoff did better for Willie Tan, who paid Abramoff millions in lobbying fees keep U.S. labor standards out of the sweatshops Tan operated on Saipan, in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
The Commonwealth is an American protectorate. In 1992 the U.S. Labor Department sued five of Tan’s garment factories, forcing them to pay $9 million to “guest workers” from China, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, who were locked into worker camps and forced to work up to 84 hours a week with no overtime pay.
Five years later, when the Clinton administration tried to impose U.S. labor standards on the islands, Abramoff turned to DeLay, for whom he Abramoff had raised millions of dollars. And DeLay responded.
DeLay and his wife spent New Year’s Eve 1998 as Tan’s guest at the Grand Hyatt in Saipan. His New Year toast to Tan was a political pact that included the line: “When I played golf with [two Mariana officials] in Houston, they told me about the attempts of the Clinton Administration to kill prosperity on the Islands.” DeLay promised protection from “big labor and the radical left.” After visiting a Saipan sweatshop, DeLay said, “I didn’t see anybody sweating.”
Jack Abramoff is living in a halfway house in Baltimore, after serving three and a half years of a six-year sentence. He will be released from federal custody 10 days before DeLay is scheduled for sentencing.