The Chron finally writes a story of its own on the DeLay/Enron revelations. Nothing new, really, but there is a new line of defense put forth by Jonathan "Caricature Assassination" Grella:
DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella said there was nothing wrong or illegal about raising money from Enron for ARMPAC. He said the money was raised before Enron's finances began unraveling in fall 2001.
"Enron was a well-respected member of the community before these revelations came to light," he said. "Hindsight is 20/20 when it comes to things like Enron."
Another attempt at misdirection is seen in this AP wire story, in which Rep. Chris Bell states that the news of Enron's donations to DeLay bolsters his ethics case against The Hammer:
Grella said the reference to redistricting in the 2001 e-mail is about Texas redistricting that year, not the 2002 round that led the state's Democratic legislators to flee to neighboring states.
The Chron editorializes against DeLay's actions today.
PAC defenders say the Texas campaign laws are vague and confusing. They're right. Neither the law nor the Texas Ethics Commission explicitly defines what PAC expenses corporate donations can pay for. However, vagueness should not be an invitation for abuse. Texas law clearly intends to keep corporations from financing political campaigns and purchasing the influence of elected officials.
DeLay recently said he has lawyers "all over the place" to make sure his actions and methods are legal. If his lawyers can certify precisely what he can and cannot do, then the laws are not that vague, after all.
However, if PACs legally can spend millions of corporate dollars to influence political campaigns -- effectively, as PAC officials have stated -- then the law is not vague, but meaningless.
Corporations do not give combined millions of dollars to political action committees unless they hope to advance their financial interests by doing so. If the contributions had no real effect and bought no advantage, they would be a waste of shareholder value.
An internal Enron e-mail suggests that DeLay solicited Enron money to be used in the redistricting effort in Texas. If the vagueness of the law allows corporate dollars into campaigns when the law's intent is to keep them out, the next Legislature has a duty to change the law. Total corporate contributions to a political action committee could be limited to $100,000 or some other arbitrary sum, or they could be banned outright, an action more than justified by the abuses of 2002.
Let's say you get called for jury duty. It happens that the person on trial once gave you money. Would you expect to get picked for that jury?
You'd expect to be sent home, pronto, and for good reason.
Even if you, as an upright and fair-minded citizen, could put the financial tie completely out of your mind, how could those of us looking on, who can't get inside your head, be confident in your impartiality?
That's essentially the situation in Washington, where Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas stands accused of unethical fund-raising practices. Four of the five Republicans on the committee investigating him have received money from his political action committee.
The sums aren't huge – no more than $15,000 to any one person. But the payments illustrate how difficult it is for members of Congress – a body that exists on back-scratching and favor-swapping, sometimes in the form of hard, cold cash – to police themselves.
That difficulty is compounded many-fold when the subject of the probe is the House member with the greatest ability to reward friends and punish enemies. That's why former House ethics panels appointed outside counsels to handle investigations of former speakers Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich.
(It was Mr. Gingrich, you may recall, who held up the Democrats as the example of the effects of a single party wielding too much power. Something about "a cancer threatening the very essence of representative freedom.")
Turning the probe over to an outsider was sensible then, and it's sensible now. In fact, some scholars of congressional ethics would make such an appointment mandatory in all ethics investigations.
Without going that far, it's clear that, if ever there was a good time to bring in an impartial investigator, this is it.