Editorial

Crime and Punishment

When Jan Reid and I set out to write a book about Tom DeLay in 2003, we assumed we would be writing about a subject whose political philosophy was alien to ours—not about organized crime. But a criminal conspiracy—with our subject at its center—became one of the themes of our book. Incidents of contempt for the law were, as far as reporting goes, low-hanging fruit. Writing about them made us feel as if we were demonstrating our grasp of the obvious.

Congressional Democrats figured out how easy it was in 1998, when they filed a RICO suit against DeLay and his various “criminal enterprises.” After Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson certified the suit, DeLay settled it and shut down some of the fundraising operations described as “criminal.” DeLay’s misconduct wasn’t limited to sketchy fundraising. In that same year, he pulled an intellectual property rights bill off the House floor, to coerce a trade association into firing a former Democratic member of Congress it had hired as executive director. “That meets the legal definition of extortion as I understand it,” said New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler. DeLay was also summoning lobbyists to his office and telling them they had to contribute more money to Republicans if they wanted access, which meets my definition of extortion, too—even if my deeper understanding of the law is derived from watching “Boston Legal” on Tuesday nights.

Now as the DA in Austin and federal prosecutors in Washington are confirming the obvious claims that we laid out in our book, the House Republican Conference has punished DeLay—by banishing him to an Appropriations subcommittee. The subcommittee’s jurisdiction includes the NASA complex in DeLay’s district; he can use NASA funding to try to leverage up his 28 percent approval rating before he faces Democrat Nick Lampson in November. There’s also a less obvious reason for the appointment. DeLay will temporarily occupy the seat vacated by Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the California Republican who copped a $2.4 million bribery plea and resigned from Congress. (An appropriate seat for an appropriator like DeLay.) But because DeLay had previously served on Appropriations, he’s now in line to become Subcommittee chair next year when Frank Wolf leaves the post.

The leverage that DeLay will get out of the chairmanship has to do with the funding jurisdiction of the Subcommittee on Science, the Departments of State, Justice, and Commerce, and Related Agencies. Forget the related agencies. DeLay really needs some stroke at Justice. Right around the time that he received his new committee appointment, the U.S. Family Network received a subpoena requesting information on DeLay and his wife Christine; DeLay’s former deputy chief of staff Tony Rudy and his wife Lisa; and the Network director, the Rev. Ed Buckham and his wife Wendy. Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist were also mentioned in the subpoena—though their wives were not. This all relates to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, which will almost certainly result in the indictment of members of Congress and their staffs. The subpoena in question was issued by the same Department of Justice whose funding DeLay will oversee, if he escapes jail time in Texas.

Funny how these things always seem to work out. —Lou Dubose

Former Observer editor Lou Dubose is the co-author of the PublicAffairs political thriller, The Hammer Comes Down: The Nasty, Brutish and Shortened Political Life of Tom DeLay. This is the first in an occasional series of guest editorials.

Lou Dubose was editor of The Texas Observer from 1987-1999. He’s authored five books, including the best-seller Shrub with Molly Ivins. He currently edits The Washington Spectator.

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