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Friday, November 18, 2005

Tom DeLay's TRMPAC Scandal Reverberates Through Texas Politics

As R.G. Ratcliffe reports in the Houston Chronicle, the Texas GOP has cut a deal with a county prosecutor to avoid criminal charges for spending corporate money to influence 2002 state legislative races.

Texas law prohibits the use of corporate money on political campaigns. Political parties can raise corporate money, but 1) they can only spend the corporate $$ on administrative expenses and 2) they have to maintain a separate account for such spending.

Tom DeLay and employees of his political action committee TRMPAC have been indicted for a similar offense. DeLay's TRMPAC raised $190,000 in corporate money, which it then sent to the national GOP, which then sent the money back to candidates in the 2002 Texas legislative races, effectively laundering the corporate cash.

In exchange for avoiding prosecution, the Texas GOP agreed to two conditions: 1) not to spend any corporate money even on administrative expenses through December 31, 2007, and 2) to admit that "from an accounting perspective", the state party had spent corporate money on elections on three separate occasions.

Throughout the investigation, the party insisted that it simply had a different definition of what constitutes "administrative expenses". Of course, its definition of administration included television ads, on which it spent $1.9 million.

No credible rationale exists for corporate money in the political process. If you're an American shareholder of a corporation, you can make contributions as an individual. If you're a foreign shareholder, it is plain old illegal for you to make political contributions. A corporate contribution can only serve to simultaneously mask and magnify the political influence of a shareholder or to allow foreigners to influence American elections.

Slightly under half of the states ban corporate contributions to political parties and candidates, as does the federal government for federal races. The sooner the other states follow suit on a corporate ban, the better off our representative government will be.

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