Why a Texas court overturned Tom DeLay money-laundering conviction

Tom DeLay, former House majority leader, was accused of illegally routing $190,000 in corporate political contributions through the Republican National Committee.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
In a decision released Thursday, a Texas appellate court tossed the 2010 money-laundering conviction of Tom DeLay, former House majority leader. According to the decision, there was insufficient evidence for a jury to have found him guilty of illegally funneling corporate campaign money to Texas state GOP candidates.

A Texas appellate court on Thursday overthrew the 2010 conviction of former Rep. Tom DeLay (R) of Texas, who was found guilty of money laundering during the 2002 election cycle.  

Mr. DeLay, known in the US House of Representatives as "the Hammer," was facing a three-year prison sentence and was out on $10,000 bail during the appeals process.

In a 2-to-1 decision, the Third Court of Appeals ruled that “the evidence was legally insufficient to support DeLay’s convictions.”

DeLay was accused of illegally routing $190,000 in corporate political contributions through the Republican National Committee, which then passed on the identical sum to seven Texas House candidates, who are barred by Texas law from accepting campaign contributions from corporations.

That election cycle, the Republican candidates took over the Texas House for the first time since Reconstruction and then gerrymandered Texas congressional districts to favor the GOP. The new electoral map helped give Texas Republicans a gain of five seats in the US House.

For several years, the role DeLay played in helping the Republicans gain control of the Texas Legislature was widely viewed as his crowning triumph.

But a 2005 indictment by a Texas grand jury forced DeLay to resign his position as US House majority leader, in line with GOP House rules that an indicted leader must step down. He did not seek reelection in 2006. 

“In moving money around in order to use illegal corporate funds to elect candidates in Texas, Tom DeLay displayed a startling contempt for our laws and our democratic process. Initially, he even bragged about what he had done. He should be punished accordingly,” said Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit campaign-finance reform advocacy group, in a statement after Thursday’s verdict.

Opinions about DeLay's case were frequently split along party lines, with Republicans grateful for the help in regaining the Texas House and Democrats upset with the changes in Texas’ political landscape. 

Thursday’s decision carried similar political overtones: Republican Justices Melissa Goodwin, who wrote the opinion, and David Gaultney both voted to overturn DeLay’s conviction. Chief Justice Woody Jones, a Democrat, dissented. 

“We won the Super Bowl,” Brian Wice, DeLay’s appellate lawyer, said to his client. 

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