Guilty? Depends on the meaning of the word 'funds'Appeals court says money laundering indictments may not cover checks.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
After nearly six years of legal wrangling, the criminal case against two Republican operatives accused of accepting illegal campaign donations and money laundering may end with the absurd argument that checks are not "funds."
In a strange twist, an all-Republican panel of the state 3rd Court of Appeals actually upheld the indictments of John Colyandro and Jim Ellis for campaign law violations and money laundering. Appellate Justices Alan Waldrop, W. Kenneth Law and Bob Pemberton dismissed the defendants' argument that the laws were vague and overbroad.
However, the ruling also offered Colyandro and Ellis a path to acquittal. In explaining why the law is explicit, the court went into a long, tortured definition of money. The justices determined that the law under which the two were first indicted in 2004 did not precisely define "funds" to include checks.
That's nonsense, of course. We are pretty sure that when the justices get their paychecks they consider them "funds" and money in the bank. It strains credulity to think anyone would not consider campaign contributions in the form of checks the same as greenbacks. Virtually all campaign donations are made by check.
None of this mind-bending, twisted legal reasoning changes the fundamental facts of the case: The Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee accepted corporate campaign donations to influence several 2002 legislative races. It is generally illegal in Texas for corporations to donate to candidates for the Legislature.
Colyandro collected money from the corporations and sent a check to Ellis in Washington, D.C. Ellis gave a $190,000 check to a national Republican committee, which turned around and donated $190,000 to Texas legislative candidates. It was part of a plan by then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the resigned Sugar Land Republican, to gain a Republican majority in the state Legislature.
DeLay pushed that GOP majority to redistrict Texas and send more Republicans to Washington. It worked, and the unprecedented mid-census redistricting resulted in more Republicans in Congress. But it required the political committees to stretch the law. DeLay also has been indicted on the money laundering charges, but his lawyer thinks the 3rd Court of Appeals decision means certain acquittal.
We're not so sure. That "reasonable person" the appeals court justices are so fond of citing would likely conclude that laundering funds to evade the law would include checks as well as cash.
Picking nits about whether a check is the functional equivalent of cash misses the point anyway. The political action committee solicited money from corporations in contravention of the laws prohibiting corporate donations to political candidates, then laundered it through a GOP committee in Washington.
No amount of legal hair-splitting changes those harsh facts.