The great British novelist Aldous Huxley once wrote that “human beings are condemned to consequences” – a line that sprang to mind when I learned, on Thanksgiving eve, that a Texas jury had voted unanimously to hold Tom “The Hammer” DeLay criminally accountable for the consequences of his actions.
This verdict will do absolutely nothing to stem the flood of corporate money into political campaigns; compared to what the U.S. Supreme Court Justice unleashed last January, when the John Roberts majority freed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns, Tom DeLay’s misdeeds in Texas eight years ago seem like chump change. Still, the verdict is the latest and worst indignity yet inflicted on the fallen power broker, a prominent marker on the road to political ruin. Remember this guy? Long before he broke bones in his foot during a gig on Dancing with the Stars, The Hammer was the fearsome House Republican leader who pressured corporate lobbyists to pump money into the party coffers, golfed around the world at the lobbyists’ expense, assailed the constitutional independence of the judiciary (“judges need to be intimidated”), and wound up being admonished for unethical behavior on four separate occasions by the House Ethics Committee. Finally, after he was indicted for money laundering in violation of Texas law, he resigned his post as House majority leader; and shortly thereafter, in April 2006, he decided it would be unwise to seek re-election in his suburban Houston district.He has been busy fighting the Texas indictment ever since. It has not been a pleasant four years. (In late ’06, he briefly surfaced as a blogger, and on his very first day, a predictably anonymous commenter posted this message: “You corrupt hypocrite, crawl back to the hole you came out of.”) Naturally, he deemed himself innocent on all counts. But, at the climax of a case that spanned more than 1800 days, the prosecutors finally got it in front of a jury and framed a convincing chronology:Texas law bans corporations from donating, directly or indirectly, to Texas candidates. The state ban has been law since 1903. But in 2002, DeLay sought to elude that ban, courtesy of his money-laundering scheme. He collected $190,000 in corporate money, and funneled it all to the Republican National Committee; the RNC then sent the exact same amount to seven Republicans seeking seats in the Texas legislative. DeLay had chosen all seven recipients. He didn’t testify at his trial, but he had previously described his central role in statements to reporters and, indeed, to the prosecutors.Immediately after the verdict late Wednesday, the convicted felon made a few characteristic remarks. He said, “I praise the Lord for what’s going on. I’m not going to blame anybody.” Then he quickly put aside his praise for the Lord, and proceeded to blame the verdict on “an abuse of power” by a prosecution team bent on political vendetta.He’ll appeal, of course, and that process will play out for a few more years; in the end, even if the verdict is upheld, it’s questionable whether he’ll wind up as a prison inmate (and star of a new reality show, Dancing Behind the Bars). Probation seems far more likely. More importantly, his ’02 scheme worked, and it can’t be undone now. Buoyed by that laundered corporate money, Republicans took control of the Texas legislature, and, in doing so, won the power to redraw the boundaries for the U.S. House districts, thereby making it easier for Republican candidates to win those seats – which is precisely what happened in 2004. And now the John Roberts court has done far more for the GOP-friendly corporate cause than DeLay could have ever envisioned.But, at least with respect to DeLay’s rise and fall, perhaps the last word should go to Beverly Carter. She was a Texas Republican precinct chairwoman when I met her in the spring of 2005. DeLay’s legal troubles were mounting at the time, which propelled me to visit his district and sample public opinion. Beverly had known him since 1978, when “he had a mustache, and a pin-striped suit with bell bottoms. He was known as Hot Tub Tom, a good-time fella.” But, nearly 30 years later, she had a sixth sense that a criminal indictment was on the way – which inspired her, in the midst of our conversation, to craft DeLay’s political epitaph:”We Texans don’t mind pigs feeding at the trough. Here’s the thing, though. Pigs get fat, but hogs get slaughtered. And Tom has been a hog.”