"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

8.22.2006

'tis a gift to be simple

The lawyers for the guys who ran TRMPAC, Tom DeLay's group that worked to get Republicans elected to a majority of state offices in 2002, argued this morning that the Texas campaign finance law concerning corporate donations is too confusing to the "man in the street." Granted, I am a trained political scientist, so maybe I don't qualify as a woman in the street. But most readers of Texas in Africa are lucky enough to not be political scientists. So let's ponder this point:
  1. If you are running for public office, or running a PAC that's trying to influence politics through cash and in-kind donations, you are not "the man in the street." You and your campaign are responsible for hiring or obtaining the volunteer services of a professional who can interpret campaign finance law for you.
  2. In Texas, this isn't even a little bit challenging. We only have ONE campaign finance law: you can't spend corporate money on political activities in your campaign. Corporate donations can be spent on purely administrative costs - things like rent for an office or electricity to keep the lights on. Corporate money cannot be spent on political activities like printing campaign signs, or running a phone bank that encourages people to vote for a candidate.
  3. The law is designed to keep businesses from having too much influence over politicians. It doesn't work very well, because individuals can still give unlimited personal donations to campaigns, and you'd better believe the officials who get elected as a result of those donations remember what comapny their donors own.
  4. Was that so hard to understand?

Of course not. And the TRMPAC lawyers understand that. What they are actually arguing is that the law is unclear on whether money-laundering is illegal. The most interesting aspect of the TRMPAC case is that no one disagrees on the facts of the case. TRMPAC collected $190,000 in corporate donations and sent it to the Republican National Committee, which in turn donated a total of $190,000 to seven candidates for office in Texas. $190,000 went in, and $190,000 came directly back to the candidates TRMPAC wanted to get elected.

Does anyone honestly believe that money-laundering isn't a violation of both the spirit and letter of the law? (Does anyone ever believe that money-laundering is okay?!?) You're not supposed to be able to use money that came from corporate donations for political activities. The sense of being above the law for a perceived just cause is symptomatic to anything having to do with Tom DeLay. It's so simple.

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