With prison looming, DeLay looks to Citizens United and the Supremes
Tom DeLay stands eyeball-to-eyeball with the prospect of years in prison. But he figures he still has friends in high places. Like the U.S. Supreme Court, maybe.
That would be the majority of justices who authored the 2010 campaign finance ruling known as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which has been decried by Democrats and reformers as a danger to U.S. electoral integrity.
DeLay, whose hard-driving style as a congressional powerbroker earned him the nickname “The Hammer,” was sentenced this week to three years in prison on money laundering and conspiracy charges. A Texas jury said he helped funnel money illegally to Republican candidates in the state in 2002.
But DeLay’s lawyer Dick DeGuerin believes the Supreme Court altered the landscape a year ago when it ruled in a 5-4 decision that corporations can spend unlimited sums of money on political campaigns that advocate or oppose candidates for office.
“The underlying crime was that corporate money was spent on political races in Texas and that’s not true,” DeGuerin explains to NBC.
“However, the Supreme Court says that corporations have a right to participate in the political process and that’ll be part of our appeal.”
The attorney did not say whether he intends to appeal all the way to the Supremes. It’s also not clear how directly Citizens United would apply to DeLay’s case, since it preserves federal limits on direct contributions to political candidates.
Critics of Citizens United including President Barack Obama say the ruling threatens to undermine democracy by flooding the electoral process with a new wave of special interest money.
Republicans say anti-business Democrats are only trying to protect their own jobs.
Either way, Democrats in Congress have been unable to impose new public disclosure requirements on political donors as a means of containing the ruling’s impact.
Back to DeLay, the former House jefe stubbornly adheres to the argument that his conviction and sentence are a political vendetta for a congressional redistricting plan that favored Texas Republicans at the expense of their Democratic counterparts.
“I was tried in the most liberal county in the state of Texas, indeed in the United States. The foreman of the jury was a Greenpeace activist,” he tells NBC.
DeLay is free on bond pending his appeal.
Reuters Photo Credits: Hand Out (DeLay); Larry Downing (Supreme Court); Issei Kato ($100 Bills)
Click here for more political coverage from Reuters.