The Austin appeals court erred in deciding that the state’s money-laundering statute - used to prosecute associates of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay - did not apply to transfers made via checks, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled today.
The court’s 9-0 decision also upheld the state’s election laws prohibiting corporations from making political contributions to candidates. DeLay’s associates - John Colyandro and Jim Ellis - had challenged the law as an unconstitutional infringement on First Amendment rights.
In 2002, the Public Integrity Section of the Travis County District charged Colyandro - working on behalf of Texans for a Republican Majority PAC - with accepting political contributions from corporations.
Colyandro and Ellis also were charged with money laundering by transferring $190,000 in corporate contributions to the Republican National Committee by a check, with a similar amount later returned to the state organization.
Several surprising things about this. The CCA has recently been a sharply divided court and it's notable to see a 9-0 vote on what's been a contentious, partisan case dragging out many years. Also, the ruling serves as vindication to a degree of former Travis County DA Ronnie Earle who pushed for these charges back in 2002 and was widely criticized with the 3rd Court of Appeals ruled against them. It's particularly ironic that Sharon Keller would write an opinion serving that function.
As for me, I don't particularly know how I feel about this law. I tend to fall on the money-is-speech end of the spectrum on campaign finance debates and personally have never seen a campaign-finance reform plan that didn't cause more problems than it solved. OTOH, in this case the question is that campaign operatives apparently knew what the law was - which agree or not they're obligated to obey - and actively took steps to circumvent it, so I get why they're being prosecuted. And saying checks didn't count as contributions was a slender reed indeed on which to throw out the case.
It'd be fascinating to know the behind-the-scenes politicking among CCA judges that explains how that 9-0 vote came to pass - who initially stood where, what the disagreements were, if any, and what compromises were made to achieve unanimity. I'll bet there's an interesting story to tell about how that result came about.