Thursday, December 16, 2004

Ronnie Earle cuts a deal

From the Austin Chronicle

"Defendant further acknowledges that the basis for the Texas prohibition against corporate contributions is that they constitute a genuine threat to democracy."

That's the penultimate sentence in the agreement signed last week between Diversified Collection Services Inc. and Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle, allowing the company to be conditionally cleared of the felony charge of illegal corporate contributions – specifically the sum of $50,000 – to the now-defunct political action committee known as Texans for a Republican Majority. On the face of it, it's an odd note to strike in a criminal dismissal agreement, and the lawyers to other targets of the investigation were quick to snort their disapproval. "This is a very suspicious agreement," Austin attorney Joe Turner told the Statesman's Laylan Copelin, complaining about the "political stuff" in the document.

Turner's suspicion is understandable, as he represents the rather more heavily indicted former TRMPAC director John Colyandro, and the conventional sections of the DCS agreement note forebodingly, "The Defendant will cooperate with the State of Texas in its prosecution of any other indicted person for any offense related to the corporate contribution made by the Defendant."


There are other matters addressed in the brief agreement, including the company's assurances that it will not only go and sin feloniously no more, but it will underwrite "non-partisan, balanced, and publicly informative ... educational programs related to the role of corporations in American democracy." That's a touching ambition, even for a hardball prosecutor; an unretouched portrait of the true role of corporations in American democracy, alas, is a good deal more than we can wish for. It will be plenty if Earle and Diversified – and the Williams Cos., and Sears Roebuck, and Westar Energy, and the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, and the rest of the corporate indictees – help fill in the blanks on the true role of corporations in the Texas legislative elections of November of 2002.

In that regard, it's useful to recall where we are politically. Thanks at least in part to the money provided by the TRMPAC 8, along with another $2 million or so funneled through the Texas Association of Business, the Republicans seized dominant control of the Texas House and the Legislature, and were able to ram through reactionary policies that otherwise might have been held at bay or at least diluted. On a broader scale, at DeLay's insistence they redrew the Texas congressional map for a second time, effectively disenfranchising millions of Texas voters, many of them minorities, in the process, and strengthening DeLay's stranglehold on the U.S. House. (Indeed, last week House Speaker Dennis Hastert let it be known that he will bring no bill to the floor that does not enjoy majority Republican support, a DeLay strategy that effectively silences the elected representatives of at least half the population.)


So one down, seven to go – if the Diversified deal, and any subsequent arrangement, lead to some substantial justice in the Case of the Purloined Statehouse, then perhaps "the community would be better served by resolving the case through this agreement." But if the gun to those corporate heads turns out to be loaded with nothing but blanks, sponsored homilies on corporate responsibility will be small compensation for felony theft of democracy.

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