CHEYENNE – The Third Court of Appeals of Texas ruled in Delay v. Texas today that evidence used to convict Tom DeLay of money laundering and conspiracy in 2010 was insufficient, overturning the verdict. The court relied on an argument put forth by WyLiberty attorneys Benjamin Barr and Stephen Klein in a friend-of-the-court brief.
“All too often, campaign finance laws are used as tools of political manipulation to damage and harass innocent citizens.” said Barr. “We are pleased that Mr. DeLay will be formally recognized as innocent and hope this precedent will help stop similar campaigns in the future. Today’s ruling affirms the simple truth that the Constitution does not allow states to invent political crimes to be levied against political opponents.”
In their brief, Barr and Klein argued that the legal theory used by prosecutors violated the First Amendment, exposing citizens like DeLay to criminal charges simply for engaging in politics. This was because the law was too vague for a reasonable person to believe DeLay’s conduct was illegal. The court agreed, and said in its opinion, “[r]ather than supporting an agreement to violate the Election Code, the evidence shows that the defendants were attempting to comply with the Election Code . . . .”
“The Public Integrity Unit’s duty is to prosecute violations of the law. But here they had to rewrite the law first, which they do not have the power to do.” said Klein. “Their theory was so outlandish that it looked like nothing more than a blatant witch hunt against Tom DeLay. I’m grateful justice prevailed today.”
In the 2002 Texas elections, a political action committee (PAC) called Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) raised $190,000 from corporations. Texas law allowed PACs to use corporate money for limited purposes and to contribute it to out-of-state groups. So, TRMPAC contributed its corporate money to the Republican National State Elections Committee (RNSEC). In return, the RNSEC contributed $190,000 from accounts made up of contributions raised from individuals to candidates for the Texas Legislature, also legal under Texas law. But Texas prosecutors in the state’s Public Integrity Unit labeled this money laundering and brought charges against DeLay.
The state of Texas may appeal the decision to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal court in the state.
The Wyoming Liberty Group is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization. The WyLiberty Legal Center works to vindicate its clients’ constitutional rights in courts, with a strong focus on First Amendment rights in the political arena. The Center for Competitive Politics joined Wyoming Liberty Group on this brief. Barr and Klein were joined on the brief by Austin attorney Roger Borgelt, who served as local counsel.