EDITORIAL: Charges against DeLay are baseless

The recent indictment against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is really much ado about nothing. Plenty has been made of the charges that he conspired to circumvent Texas election laws by laundering campaign money from corporations, but making the accusations stick might be another matter.

What essentially happened was this: A political action committee called Texans for a Republican Majority sent $190,000 in corporate contributions to the Republican National State Election Committee, which in turn allocated approximately the same amount of money to various Republican candidates running for the Texas House of Representatives. Ronnie Earle, Travis County district attorney, claims that this is a form of money laundering and illegal under the new campaign finance reform laws.

This makes no sense, however, because the corporations could have made the campaign contributions directly, and there would have been no room for Earle to indict anyone. As former Department of Justice official Barbara Comstock said, “How could anyone conspire to do indirectly what could legally have been done directly?”

Even so, the indictment against DeLay himself is ridiculous. To justify the actions taken against him, Earle would have to prove that DeLay was part of a conspiracy to make sure the money got to the candidates that needed it. There is no evidence that DeLay did anything of the sort – at least not any in the indictment, where one might assume it to be.

The House majority leader is certainly not one of the most beloved men around – at least not by Democrats and the mass media, who have bent over backwards to portray him as a ruthless power-broker who crushes anyone who stands in his way; a sort of mafia boss with a southern drawl. As one of the most powerful men in all of American politics, it is not surprising that DeLay’s enemies would go to such great lengths to tarnish his image.

The charges are essentially baseless and there is little doubt that DeLay will beat the rap. However, the political fallout remains to be seen. It is unclear at this time whether the most recent attack against DeLay will be seen by the general public as yet another failed smear tactic, or whether the most recent string of accusations will freeze DeLay’s political capital by making the charges that his foes have leveled against him for all these years all the more believable.

President Bush also faces a risk, having closely aligned himself with his fellow Texan in times past. Facing staggeringly low poll numbers, high gas prices and a stubborn Iraqi insurgency, Bush being seen as a distant co-conspirator in DeLay’s alleged schemes might add even more fuel to the fire. The Republican Party itself has much to lose. With midterm elections rapidly approaching, bad news about one of the GOP’s most prominent figures is the last thing the party needs.

DeLay will probably beat the rap, but how much damage will be done to his reputation and how it will shape the political landscape in Washington will certainly provide some drama for months and years to come.

The above editorial is the consensus of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.