Tom DeLay Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison: Statement of J. Gerald Hebert, Campaign Legal Center Executive Director


Today's sentencing of disgraced former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) is a resounding victory for those who want to see public officials held accountable for their misdeeds. His conviction and sentencing proves that he was not a victim of the "criminalization of politics" as he claimed in August when the Department of Justice (DOJ) ended its six-year investigation of him.

We may never know why DOJ's Public Integrity section backed away from its investigations of DeLay and a number of other scandal-ridden Members of Congress, but today's sentence hammers home the point that the former Majority Leader abused his office and broke the law and that he will be punished as a result.

Tom DeLay thought he was above the law. There are many tales of DeLay's arrogance and disdain for laws he didn't agree with or found inconvenient. In a widely reported incident when he was Majority Leader, DeLay visited a high-end steak house and decided to light up a cigar despite a smoking prohibition. When he was reminded that there was a 'no smoking' policy, he asked the restaurant employee who ordered the smoking ban and the employee said, "the Government." DeLay reportedly responded, "I am the Government." That kind of arrogance and his abuses of power finally got the attention of prosecutors in Texas, who pursued a case of public corruption against DeLay. They are commended for their diligence and their service.

Unfortunately, the vigor with which the Travis County District Attorney's office pursued this case and other public corruption cases stands in sharp contrast to the current U.S. Department of Justice, where public official after public official (including DeLay himself) have been given a 'get out of jail free' card from the Criminal Division's Office of Public Integrity. It is no wonder that federal officeholders are held in such low regard by the American public when elected officials can engage in criminal activity while the Justice Department seemingly stands on the sidelines, failing to bring them to justice.

To get Members of Congress to clean up their acts, there have to be serious consequences for those who violate the law. Today, former Congressman DeLay learned that lesson. It is time for the U.S. Justice Department to learn it as well.