WASHINGTON - Stung by his recent indictment in Texas, Tom Delay is trying to turn his legal woes into a financial boon for his re-election. The former House majority leader is using his congressional campaign to distribute to voters derogatory information about the prosecutor who brought the charges against him and to solicit donations for his re-election.
"Help Tom fight back," reads one of the solicitations on the http://www.TomDelay.com Web site that voters are being directed to as part of an Internet-based campaign funded by DeLay's re-election committee.
Contributors, voters and others who sign up can get regular e-mails and an electronic "toolkit" from DeLay's campaign with the latest disparaging information his legal team has dug up on Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle.
"Join thousands of conservatives across the country in the fight against liberal DA Ronnie Earle," recipients are told.
Recipients are offered a full dossier about the Democratic prosecutor and his "baseless political indictment" with subjects like:
_"Ronnie Earle's previous misuse of his office," which highlights failures in Earle's career such as his unsuccessful case against Republican Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the 1990s.
_"Earle asks for a Do-Over," which focuses on the prosecutor's decision to seek a re-indictment of DeLay on different charges after DeLay's lawyers raised technical questions about the first indictment.
_"Coming Soon: The Ronnie Earle Movie," which highlights reports that Earle allowed a film crew to follow him during parts of the DeLay investigation.
Earle apparently hasn't been solicited by the campaign. "I haven't seen it and have no comment," the prosecutor said when reached Friday. Earle, however, has denied politics have anything to do with the prosecution.
Legal experts said DeLay's use of congressional campaign donations to attack Earle likely was permitted under campaign law, though it could lead to legal questions about whether he is trying to influence potential jurors for his trial.
"He clearly is aiming at the jury pool and aiming at voters, hoping to generate as much sympathy as he can," said Larry Noble, the government's former chief election enforcement lawyer. "And it shows DeLay never misses a beat when it comes to fundraising — no matter how dark things get."
Bruce Yannett, a former Iran-Contra prosecutor, said DeLay's campaign effort might raise questions of trying to taint the potential jury pool but the legal standard for making such a case is hard to prove.
Nonetheless, Yannett said he could not imagine President Reagan overtly using his campaign to attack prosecutors during the 1980s investigation of the Iran-Contra affair. "I would not recommend his campaign do it. It does seem a little unusual," Yannett said.
DeLay has been indicted along with several colleagues on charges that he conspired to launder illegal corporate contributions to Texas state candidates. He denies the charges.
Don McGahn, a lawyer for DeLay's campaign, said the use of the campaign for the anti-Earle effort is "perfectly legal" and has nothing to do with trying to sway jurors.
The indictment is "big news in Texas so it is obviously something the campaign should address for the voters whom it affects," McGahn said. "The intent is just for people to understand the truth. There is no other purpose here."
The truth, however, is decidedly DeLay's version on the Web site.
"Ronnie Earle is wrong on the facts. Ronnie Earle is wrong on the law," the Web site states as it analyzes the twists and turns in the case in the most favorable light to the congressman.
The Web site also gives readers tools to send a letter to newspaper editors in support of DeLay, to contact a radio talk show or to e-mail DeLay's carefully crafted "facts" to friends.
And, of course, the Web site wouldn't be complete without one of the oldest pitches in politics. "Make a contribution," it pleads.