The indictment against Congressional Republican Leader Tom DeLay is a serious attack on political money laundering. To be clear, the charges will not be easy to prove, either in a court of law or in the court of public opinion. The allegations suggest that money which could not legally be spent on elections in Texas was instead funneled through a series of other political groups, each of which could legally take the funds, until it was no longer apparent that the money that Texas state candidates were handed was, in fact, illegal money.
While DeLay’s role in this remains a little unclear, what the PACs did is not new. ICPR found similar behavior here in Illinois, as both state parties washed federal soft money through their accounts and back into the fed’s hard money PACs. What makes these transactions criminal is the allegation that they were all designed and intended to evade Texas’ ban on giving by corporations. The prosecutor will likely try to show that none of the PACs involved would have given as they did without the first corporate checks at the start of the chain; that the $190,000 that arrived in October, 2002, from the RNC in the PACs of Texas state candidates was the same $190,000 in corporate money that, though forbidden to Texas state candidates, was raised in September, 2002, and transferred to the RNC; and that DeLay and his associates orchestrated these transactions.
Call it laundering, call it giving in the name of another, call it sham transactions; corporate giving is against the law in Texas. But not in Illinois. Illinois has no limits, no restrictions, no bans on anyone, anybody, or anything that has money to give to politicians. Corporations, unions, associations, trusts, and other non-persons can give as much as want, and candidates can take as much as they can get, under Illinois’ free-wheeling campaign finance rules. Illinois’ politicians are doing many of the same things that Texans are alleged to be doing. The difference is that Texas has made corporate giving illegal, while Illinois continues to tolerate unrestricted giving by special interests.
It’s time for Illinois to take a serious look at campaign finance.