AUSTIN, Texas – Prosecutors seeking to restore dropped charges against Rep. Tom DeLay told an appeals court Wednesday that Texas' prohibition on using corporate money in political campaigns is a felony and should be subject to the state's criminal conspiracy law.
They're appealing a judge's decision last fall to dismiss a conspiracy charge against DeLay. State district Judge Pat Priest agreed with defense claims that the conspiracy law did not apply to elections when the alleged offense was committed.
Priest also stripped part of a second conspiracy charge and left a money laundering indictment intact.
The charges stem from accusations that DeLay funneled illegal corporate donations to Republican candidates for the Texas House during 2002 campaigns. The Republicans went on to win control of the Legislature and pushed through a DeLay-engineered redistricting plan that helped Texas send more Republicans to Congress in 2004.
A ruling from the 3rd Court of Appeals is not expected for at least a month.
The charge that Priest dropped specifically accuses DeLay and two co-defendants of conspiring to break Texas election law. The conspiracy statute did not explicitly apply to election violations until the Legislature changed the election code the following year.
"The state is trying to create a crime where none exists," DeLay attorney Dick DeGuerin wrote in a court brief. He accused the state of appealing Priest's decision "to avoid trial and the embarrassment of an acquittal in this politically motivated prosecution."
Assistant District Attorney Richard Reed argued that criminal conspiracy should apply to felony violations of the state election law even though it wasn't explicitly laid out that way in the penal code. Much of his arguments centered on the intentions of past legislators who drafted the laws.
"All this talk about the legislative history gives me a headache," DeGuerin said.
DeLay, who won his Republican primary election earlier this month, did not attend the hearing. He spent Wednesday campaigning in what many consider his most serious election challenge since voters sent him to Congress in 1984.
"I let the lawyers worry about that stuff," he said as he entered a country club to deliver a five-minute speech to the Rotary Club of Sugar Land. "I'm here focused on my district and focused on the election."
DeLay hopes to resolve the charges, which cost him his majority leader post, before the Nov. 7 election, when former Democratic Rep. Nick Lampson will try to oust the Sugar Land Republican. Until the charges are settled, the cloud of indictment shrouds his campaign.
"I'm frustrated. I have been wanting to get this over since November," DeLay said Tuesday.
Because of the dispute, no trial date has been set. DeGuerin made a plea for the court to expedite a ruling.
"I don't mean to make a pun, but justice delayed is justice denied in this case," DeGuerin said.
House Republican rules required DeLay to step down from his post as majority leader when he was indicted in September. His attorneys had pushed for a speedy trial last year, hoping to dispense with the charges in time for DeLay to regain his majority leader post.
Dogged by the charges and criticism involving indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, DeLay later gave up his pursuit of the position, and his colleagues chose Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, as his replacement.