What It Means When Tom DeLay Is Convicted of Money Laundering

The political culture is changing, unless it isn't

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On Wednesday, former congressman Tom DeLay was convicted on one charge of money laundering and one charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering. DeLay, who was Republican House Majority Leader from 2003 to 2005, was found guilty of accepting $190,000 from corporate lobbyists and illegally routing the money to candidates at the state level in Texas. The verdict comes only months after DeLay escaped charges in connection with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and commentators have drawn any number of conclusions from this development.

  • A Mixed Victory, shrugs The New York Times in an unsigned editorial. "There are now many new ways for politicians to commit acts similar to those for which Mr. DeLay was convicted, all of them perfectly legal," the Times notes. "Thanks to the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., corporations are now free to donate unlimited amounts of money. They cannot give it directly to candidates, but they can give to 'independent' committees that run ads for or against candidates ... [DeLay] may go to jail for violating the letter of the law, but a whole new generation of political operatives is still violating the spirit in which that law was written. His conviction should stand as a warning for how society regards that violation."

  • Shows Which Way the Wind Is Blowing, writes Joel Schectman at Newsweek. "The open-mouthed, unabashed embrace of lobbyist influence in Washington seems to be on the wane—at least for now. The Tea Partiers who helped the GOP gain control of the House may use lobbyist dollars, but they have screamed too loudly against the power of K Street to do it with DeLay-style zeal ... Mickey Edwards, a former congressman from Oklahoma and chairman of the Aspen Institute, a leadership think tank, says it's not the Tea Party that will change lobbying culture, but the specter of DeLay, who faces the possibility of decades in prison. 'No one wants to be the next DeLay,' he says."

  • Look for a Ripple Effect, predicts Ana Campoy at The Wall Street Journal. "The outcome will likely reverberate throughout the other 22 states with similar bans on corporate contributions, discouraging politicians from employing similar techniques and emboldening prosecutors to go after them using the same strategy, some legal experts say."

  • No One Thought This Would Happen, marvels Eric Alterman at The Daily Beast. "I happened to be at a political event in Austin five years ago on the day the original indictments were handed down. I asked the town's then-mayor, a Democrat, about the case. He gave the state's prosecutors exactly zero chance of winning this one, given the power, wealth and influence their purported target. Well, as Barack Obama might say—or used to say, anyway, 'the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.'"

  • Don't Expect a Long Jail Sentence, says Rachel Slajda at Talking Points Memo. Slajda notes that "The money laundering charge carries a 99-year maximum sentence -- in other words, life in prison... [but] prosecutors told the Austin-American Statesman on Wednesday that they had not decided whether to ask Judge Pat Priest, who will sentence DeLay, for a prison sentence. Other potential punishments include probation and fines." Slajda quotes Philip Hilder, a Texas attorney, as saying that "it would be absolutely impossible [DeLay] would get anywhere near life."

  • I Can't Quite Shed Tears Over This, writes Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly. "It's hard not to feel a sense of schadenfreude about the developments. Tom DeLay has represented American politics at its worst -- corruption, sleaze, deception, and routine abuses of power. Whatever the outcome of the appeal, Wednesday's conviction couldn't have happened to a more appropriate person."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.