Monday, October 03, 2005

Prosecutorial politics

Michael Barone wrote in Townhall Tom DeLay has been indicted by a Travis County grand jury under the direction of District Attorney Ronnie Earle in Texas for conspiracy to violate Texas campaign finance laws and has stepped down, "temporarily," he says, as House majority leader, as required by House Republicans' rules.... it is by no means clear that DeLay's associates violated the Texas law.

Earle does not expect to convict Delay. He plans on running for higher office, and since the Republican rules call for a person in the leadership to step aside on an indictment (not a conviction), he hopes that the Democratic party will support him because he got Delay out of the Leadership (at least for now). It is interesting to note that the Democrats do not have the same rule as the Republicans have. I guess that is because they are more likely to be indicted.
Texas campaign law prohibits corporate contributions to state candidates. The charge is that DeLay's associates collected corporate contributions, sent them to the Republican National State Elections Committee, "a nonfederal component of the Republican National Committee," and that the RNC or the RNSEC sent about the same sum of money back to Texas candidates -- "exchanged" the money, in Earle's words at his press conference. But, unless DeLay's aides proceeded without legal advice -- highly unlikely these days for operatives of either party -- they were contributing money to a committee entitled to take and spend corporate cash, and then a committee that took only individual contributions sent money back to Texas candidates. That's not illegal unless the Texas law expressly forbids it. It is a general legal rule that criminal laws are narrowly construed, against the government. If the government wants to criminalize conduct, then it must do so very clearly. Otherwise, a citizen could be sent to jail for doing things he had no way to know were criminal. Was Earle acting out of political malice? There's strong evidence for that proposition, including some of his own recent public statements. It's true, as Earle's defenders say, that he has prosecuted prominent Texas Democratic officials and has gotten convictions in many of these cases. But when he first came to office and for many years afterward, there were very few Republican public officials in Texas, and the main political conflict was between liberal Democrats like Earle and moderate and conservative Democrats.
And are now Republicans.

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