SSSSHHHH…Be Vewy Quiet. I’m huntin’ Repubwicans…heheheheheheh!
The indictment of Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay is one of the least surprising developments in politics since the Democrats’ efforts to buy votes with crack cocaine in Ohio last November. Given the level of scrutiny directed toward the Texas Republican regarding everything but his bathroom habits, the laughably partisan Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, like his counterpart Elmer Fudd, was destined to succeed in finding the rabbit but will be hard pressed to ultimately catch the critter and make a stew out of him.
Instead, all Earle has succeeded in doing is making hash out of his investigation, something a federal judge will not find amusing – federal judges having a much narrower sense of humor than your average Texas pol. For in order to understand the indictment of DeLay, one must understand the wild, wild, west nature of Texas politics and how being “colorful” and “larger than life” is the best way to get ahead in the rough and tumble mud wrestling of Texas political culture.
Unlike in some of the more staid environs out east and in the Midwest, politics in Texas is a spectator sport, albeit one that requires the spectators to come equipped with a scrub brush and an extra-strength bar of soap. Both DeLay and Earle have come up through the ranks of their respective parties by successfully playing as close to the edge of the law that ethics and decency will allow, all the while “Aw Shucks”-ing and backslapping their way through successful election campaigns. It is the campaigns themselves with the ungodly amounts of money raised and spent that grease the skids of law and politics at the statehouse level.
An example would be your typical campaign for an obscure public office like State Railroad Commissioner. Through some quirk in the law, the Commission controls the oil industry in Texas which may have something to do with the fact that on average, candidates spend well over half a million dollars to get elected and most candidates spend much more than that. A run for the Texas Senate is similarly expensive. Contrast those figures in my own state of Illinois where the average amount spent on a state Senate seat is around $50,000 – figures skewed upward by races run in Chicago and its suburbs – and you have an idea of how really, really, important it is to raise money in Texas if you want to get anywhere in politics.
If money is the mother’s milk of politics, Texas has a corner on motherhood. And down through the years, well meaning reformers from both parties have attempted to change the political landscape by trying to put a stop to some of the more outrageous examples of campaign finance shenanigans, mostly to no avail. Like reformers of federal campaign laws have discovered to their utter dismay, the more strictures you put into place, the more loopholes wide enough you can drive a Texas sized 18 wheeler through are created.
Hence, we have the laughable spectacle of DeLay being indicted for a campaign finance tactic carried out gleefully by both sides. Texas law stipulates that corporate contributions to candidates are illegal. No problem, say both parties. They simply channel the money to the national parties who then churn the money back to candidates for state office through “local party building” efforts that allow the national party organs to donate money for that purpose.
Simple, elegant, legal…and unethical. Here’s a tally of what the Democrats have done with the law recently:
In fact, on October 31, 2002, the Texas Democratic Party sent the Democratic National Committee (DNC) $75,000, and on the same day, the DNC sent the Texas Democratic Party $75,000. On July 19, 2001, the Texas Democratic Party sent the DNC $50,000 and, again on the same day, the DNC sent the Texas Democratic Party $60,000. On June 8, 2001, the Texas Democratic Party sent the DNC $50,000. That very same day, the DNC sent the Texas Democratic Party $60,000.(HT: Captains Quarters)
As the Captain points out in his article, DA Earle has a problem separating his duties as a prosecutor representing the people and a partisan representing the interests of his party. This is not unusual in Texas as I’m positive you can find similar examples of Republican DA’s in Texas acting in a manner not in keeping with the ethical requirements of their office. It is the nature of the system. And that system lives and breathes money. Doing the Texas Two-Step with the campaign finance laws is a dance done by both political parties. To pretend otherwise is hypocritical. And having DeLay indicted for violating campaign finance laws in Texas is like indicting a politician for kissing babies; it may be true but given the nature of the beast and the fact that everyone does it, how can you do it in good conscience?
The funniest observer of Texas politics, Molly Ivins, has said “Good thing we’ve still got politics in Texas—finest form of free entertainment ever invented…. ” The Loony Toons moment of indicting Tom DeLay will probably be good for a few laughs but I suspect Ronnie Earle will share the fate of Elmer Fudd and other Bugs Bunny nemeses and will end up in the stew pot himself instead of the “wascally wabbit.”
Michelle Malkin has an outstanding round-up of both blogger and media reaction to the indictment. Press react this morning has been predictable with a New York Times editorial calling for DeLay’s permanent removal from his leadership position and having a disguised editorial on the front page gleefully listing what they consider to be Republican baggage going into the midterms next year.
Also, the Captain weighs in with WaPo’s surprising skepticism regarding the indictment.