Tom DeLay's legal team was in an Austin appeals court this morning, arguing that the former U.S. House Majority Leader could not be guilty of money laundering because as they said, "checks aren't funds."
DeLay was convicted in 2010, on charges that he conspired to funnel $190,000 in corporate contributions to Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature. Candidates for state office are barred from accepting corporate donations. The money was given by corporate donors to the Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee in 2002, which then sent the money to the Republican National Committee.The RNC then distributed an equal amount to candidates for the Texas House.
DeLay could spend three years in prison, if his conviction stands.
At issue at today's hearing was how to read state law at the time. Delay's lawyers argue the law does not specify checks as a form of funds that can be used to launder money.
But prosecutors argued that is an overly-narrow reading of the law. They argue that while the specific wording of the law offered examples of forms of funds (but did not include checks), those examples were not meant to exclude other methods of transferring money.
The law was amended in 2005 to specifically include checks.
"I certainly think some of the judges saw it as a technicality," said Craig McDonald, who directs Texans for Public Justice, a campaign finance watchdog group. "The statute clearly says 'funds' and what really was transferred here were the underlying funds - the check was just the mechanism to do that. So I don't think the legal arguments are on Mr. DeLay's side."
DeLay's appeal has been in the works for a while, after several Republican judges recused themselves from the case, and DeLay's lawyers argued for - and won - the recusal of a Democratic judge who was to have been among the judges considering the case.
DeLay was not in court for today's hearing. It could be several months before the court rules on the matter.