Charges that Tom DeLay conspired to violate the Texas campaign finance statute are dismissed on the grounds that what he allegedly did wasn’t a crime at the time, and Kos, displaying his usual grasp of factual and legal nuances, calls this “a technicality,” pronouncing – in a phrase that would make George Orwell cringe – that this mere technicality is “that what is illegal now wasn’t illegal under state law when DeLay committed his crimes.”
Um, if they weren’t illegal then, they weren’t crimes. Now, some rules of criminal procedure, even ones with obvious constitutional roots, are technicalities, in the sense that they have nothing to do with guilt or innocence. The notion that you can’t be prosecuted for something that wasn’t against the law when you did it is not one of them, least of all in an area as heavily regulated as campaign finance law.
UPDATE: The decision dismissing the conspiracy indictment and upholding DeLay’s indictment on money laundering charges is here. The court’s decision seems persuasive on both grounds, that conspiracy to violate the Election Code was not a crime in 2002, and that the term “funds” in the money laundering statute can include funds paid by check.
The nutshell of what charge remains against DeLay is described thus:
If the state can prove that funds were obtained from corporate contributors by these defendants with the express intent of converting those funds to the use of individual candidates, or if the state can prove that these defendants entered into an agreement to convert monies already on hand, though originally received for lawful purposes, to that use by sending the money to the Republican National State Elections Committee with an agreement that funds of the same amount would then be made available by that committee to individual candidates for Texas political office, and can prove that funds in the same amount were in fact contributed to individual candidates by the Republican National State Elections Committee, then they will have established that money was laundered. The money would have become “dirty money” at the point it began to be held with the prohibited intent.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but on my understanding of the evidence, this framing of the issues is very, very bad news for DeLay, particularly the latter standard – while it may well be that DeLay wasn’t particularly involved in the specifics of receipt and routing of particular funds, it seems pretty clear that he’s the kind of guy who would be intensely involved in controlling where and to which candidates funds would end up being disbursed.