Texas Rep. Tom DeLay was indicted today in a long-running investigation on charges of campaign finance improprieties for allegedly funneling corporate donations to Republicans running for the Texas state legislature in 2002. Soon after the indictment was announced, DeLay stepped down as House Majority Leader while the case is completed.
In a nutshell, DeLay is being accused of directing $190,000 in corporate contributions to a political action committee controlled in some part by DeLay — money that was used to help Republicans secure several victories in 2002 legislative races (corporate contributions to state legislative campaigns are illegal in Texas). Republican strength in the state legislature later helped determine congressional boundaries in state redistricting procedures, thus helping Republicans pick up and hold more seats in Congress.
This may all seem very far away from Colorado politics, but DeLay’s fate could end up playing a role here, particularly with Representatives Bob Beauprez and Marilyn Musgrave. Beauprez is one of two Republicans running for governor and Musgrave is one of the 10 most endangered Republican incumbents in the country, and both have strong ties to DeLay.
Beauprez has reportedly received $20,000 in campaign funds from DeLay and has donated money to his legal defense fund. There may be nothing illegal about any of this, but the perception of wrongdoing is where Beauprez could be in trouble. Guilty by association is often more than enough in politics to cause problems. This is also bad timing for Beauprez, since his campaign has been hammering Republican Marc Holtzman over alleged illegal campaign contributions. It’s hard to point a finger when the same finger points back at you.
Musgrave faces the same guilty by association problems. Not only has she taken a good sum of money from DeLay, she has publicly defended him. If the indictment sticks, Musgrave will no doubt see her defense of DeLay thrown back in her face sometime next fall, and she isn’t a strong enough incumbent to be able to weather too many tough storms.
Of course, there’s always the chance that none of this will mean anything 12 months from now. DeLay could skate on the charges and then nobody will care about this when the election season heats up next year. But there’s often a ripple effect in politics, and if DeLay does fall, other dominos could tumble.