Souls for Sale

Brian Cook

House Majority Leader Tom The Hammer” DeLay (R‑Texas) is the most loathsome politician to be retched onto the national stage in recent memory. To call him a shit would be to slander feces, which, to its credit, is the natural by-product of a nutritive process. DeLay can claim no such distinction.

The normally dormant House Ethics Committee recently hit DeLay with a barrage of rebukes for actions ranging from his shady fundraisers with energy execs to his misuse of Federal Aviation Administration resources for partisan purposes to his attempted bribery of a fellow House member’s vote. Meanwhile, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee has been investigating the ludicrous $45 million that two of DeLay’s close associates charged four Indian tribes in lobbying fees. 

Then there’s DeLay’s political action committee. He created Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) to fill the coffers of Texas Republican state legislative candidates, who once elected would redraw districts for the benefit of Texas Republican House candidates. TRMPAC raised $600,000 from corporations, a no-no according to Texas campaign finance laws. A grand jury investigation has returned 32 indictments, including two for money laundering against TRMPAC’s executive director and a chief DeLay aide. The two men had sent $190,000 in corporate soft money” contributions to the Republican National Committee, which waited two weeks before reallocating it as legal hard money” to seven Texas House candidates. DeLay has yet to be indicted, but Ronnie Earle, the Austin DA investigating TRMPAC, hasn’t ruled out that possibility, insisting that anyone who has committed a crime is a target.”

To shield their rainmaker, House Republicans on November 17 rescinded a rule that would have stripped DeLay of his post should he be indicted. (In 1993, then-minority GOP members had created the rule to strip a slew of indicted House Democrats of their leadership and committee chair posts.) 

As predictable as the Republicans’ rank hypocrisy was the Democrats’ shocked” response. Republicans have reached a new low,” lamented Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D‑Calif.). Added Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D‑Md.): The Republicans [have] sold their collective soul.” 

Leaving aside the misshapen wraith the Republicans’ soul” brings to mind, we should take Hoyer at his word. Who better than a Democrat to know how much a soul fetches on the free market? Were it not for the Dems’ own Faustian bargain with corporate lobbyists, they could have rid the nation of DeLay’s foul fundraising years ago.

In 1998, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) sued three shadowy DeLay-related fundraising operations under the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. If certified by a federal judge, RICO suits allow plaintiffs vast access to all of the defendant’s relevant papers and records. When Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson certified the DCCC’s suit, it appeared the dark nexus of DeLay’s fundraising operations would finally see the light of day. But the DCCC settled the case before going to trial. 

Many suspect the Democrats feared that going to trial would give the Republicans access to their own fundraising schemes and that any jury-mandated reforms of the campaign finance system would affect them as well. Thus, having temporarily slowed the DeLay juggernaut, the Democrats gave up the opportunity to institute lasting reform.

This consistent commitment to political expediency over principle suggests DeLay may be the unvarnished truth of the Democrats themselves. Like Kerry’s critique of Bush’s handling of the Iraq war, they don’t necessarily disagree with what DeLay does, just his excessive way of doing it. To remedy a campaign finance system that serves only the wealthy, Democrats need to examine their own culpability and offer real alternatives. Clean Money, Clean Election” reforms that provide an even playing field for candidates would be a good place to start (www​.pub​li​cam​paign​.org). There is no reason for DeLay.

Brian Cook was an editor at In These Times from 2003 to 2009. He now works on the editorial staff of Playboy magazine.
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