Last week a grand jury indicted Texas Republican Tom DeLay on a felony charge of conspiracy to violate campaign laws, costing him his powerful position as House Majority Leader. This week, two new indictments have come down against the man known as “The Hammer,” for money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. As the nation awaits the outcome, it is likely that sooner or later the Montana connection to DeLay’s money laundering scheme will be revealed.
It’s not Conrad Burns, who’s struggling with his own ethics problems over his close association with—and huge campaign contributions from—notorious D.C. lobbyist and power broker Jack Abramoff, who is under investigation for ripping off Indian tribes for millions. Nor is it Denny Rehberg, who also took $21,000 in campaign contributions from Abramoff and the tribes he represented. And it isn’t even Max Baucus, who got $5,000 in contributions from the Abramoff cartel, too.
No, when the details of DeLay’s new charges were finally revealed, they allege that contributions “The Hammer” squeezed out of his corporate cronies were “laundered” by passing them through the Republican National Committee (RNC), which then sent them back to Texas campaign coffers in violation of the state’s prohibition on corporate contributions to political campaigns. And who chaired the RNC back in 2002 when the corporate money supposedly got laundered? None other than Montana’s former golden boy turned Bush confidante and high-end lobbyist, Gov. Marc Racicot.
It doesn’t take a long memory to recall what happened at the end of Racicot’s two terms as Montana’s governor. First, Racicot became a close friend of then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush. After all, they were both governors of western states and spent time together at conferences and such, so the connection seemed innocent enough.
But then Racicot became enamored of an idea that Bush and his corporate buddies wanted to push—energy deregulation. Racicot liked the idea so much that he helped Montana Power Company (MPC) lobbyists stuff Montana’s own utility deregulation bill through in the waning days of the 1997 legislative session. Racicot and the Republican-dominated Legislature promised Montanans their free-market ideology would bring competition to the energy supply arena and lead to lower power bills for everyone.
What followed is a failure of historic proportions that still reverberates in Montana and continues to plague our citizens and government with unbearably high energy rates. Before the year was out, MPC announced it was selling off all the dams and coal-fired power plants—built with consumer dollars—to an out-of-state energy conglomerate, Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL). MPC also sold off its energy distribution systems, gas fields and pipelines in its rush to morph into a telecommunications company.
We all know the history from that fateful moment on. Before you could say “good-bye cheap power,” MPC announced massive golden parachutes for the corporate executives who had arranged the dissolution of MPC. Touch America, the telecommunications venture, went bankrupt, and thousands of Montanans lost their stock investments and pensions. The lawsuits that followed are ongoing to this day.
But back to the story. By then Bush was running for president, and when the corruption of Florida’s electoral system failed to get him enough votes to win, he brought old Markie Boy—who was still supposedly governing Montana—down to Florida to help him with the legal wrangling that eventually ended when the U.S. Supreme Court halted the recount and awarded the presidency to Bush.
To the victors go the spoils, and in this case, the spoils were pretty dang rich for Marc Racicot. First he got a new job in D.C. with a powerful law firm that lobbied for clients such as Enron, the king of the deregulation drive and, as we now know, one of the most corrupt corporations in the history of the nation. Most Montanans would have been satisfied with a seven-figure salary, but more spoils were being handed out and Racicot was there to get them.
While rumors ran rampant about Racicot’s prospects as attorney general, or even vice president, none of those possibilities came to fruition. Instead, highly-paid registered lobbyist Marc Racicot was appointed as chair of the Republican National Committee—in spite of a national hue and cry over the ethical implications, since the RNC charter defines the chairmanship as a full-time job. Nonetheless, Racicot kept his high-paid lobbying position and took over the chair of the RNC, where he controlled the purse-strings of the massive GOP fundraising machine and doled out the take for the 2002 midterm elections that shifted control of Congress to the Republicans. Not coincidentally, the election also brought Tom DeLay to his powerful position as House Majority Leader.
Which brings us back to DeLay’s new indictments by the Texas grand jury. Like the earlier conspiracy charge, the latest crimes of which DeLay stands accused are felonies. But there’s one big difference—the maximum punishment for the former charge was only two years. If he’s convicted of money-laundering, Delay could wind up with a life term in prison.
Because the stakes of the game are now so high, at some point the role of the RNC in the money-laundering scheme will eventually come under investigation. When that happens—and it is inconceivable that it will not—the actions of RNC Chair Marc Racicot will come under intense scrutiny. As the world watches, the totality of this web of corruption may very well be revealed, the flow of corporate money through back rooms exposed to the bright light of day, the giving of gold and the political payback laid bare for all to see.
Montana’s current governor says he can’t stand “the stench” of politics in Washington these days. I suspect most Montanans would agree. But it sure looks like Tom DeLay’s Montana connection will be wafting the stench of Republican political corruption all the way home.
When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at firstname.lastname@example.org.