Politics & Policy

The Movie: Ronnie Earle, On a Mission From God

The Texas DA is inspired by the Bible to prosecute Tom DeLay.

A new film featuring Travis County, Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle as he pursued the investigation that led to the indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay portrays Earle less as a partisan figure than as a messianic leader on a mission to rid American politics of the “evil” influence of money.

A copy of the still-unfinished film, entitled The Big Buy, was obtained by National Review Online Friday.

On several occasions in the film, Earle engages in monologues on what he believes is the sinister effect of money in politics. “The root of the evil of the corporate and large-monied interest domination of politics is money,” Earle says as he takes the filmmakers on a nighttime drive around Austin. “This is in the Bible. This isn’t rocket science. The root of all evil truly is money, especially in politics. People talk about how money is the mother’s milk of politics. Well, it’s the devil’s brew. And what we’ve got to do, we’ve got to turn off the tap.”

In another scene, Earle describes how he deals with offenders in cases like the campaign-finance investigation. “It’s important that we forgive those who come to us in a spirit of contrition and the desire for forgiveness. That’s important. But if they don’t, then God help them.” The film then dissolves to a picture of DeLay.

In yet another scene, Earle describes corporate political contributions, which are illegal in Texas (although state law allows corporations to fund the administrative activities of political action committees) as a problem that is “every bit as insidious as terrorism.”

The film also features footage that illustrates the extraordinary access to the DeLay investigation that Earle granted filmmakers Mark Birnbaum and Jim Schermbeck. The Big Buy contains footage of the empty Travis County grand-jury room, as well as video of grand-jury staffers and some members of the grand jury entering the room (the face of one grand juror was obscured by the filmmakers). The film also contains footage of the original indictments of DeLay’s associates, as well as those of several corporations, being sorted and copied, apparently before they were made public, on September 21, 2004, the day the indictments were handed up. There is also footage of Earle meeting with his staff attorneys, reading the indictments before they were released. “It’s like that moment right after the missiles are launched,” Earle says of the scene, “when it’s real quiet, but it’s not going to be quiet for long.”

In the picture, Earle explains that he believes he bears a profound responsibility to alert the American public to the dangers of big political contributions. “I feel great pressure to get the information to the public, to point, to set a tone and to point a direction, and to say which hill needs to be taken,” he explains. “When a powerful politician [Earle was referring to DeLay] can demand $25,000 for face time for large monied interests, I mean, something’s wrong. What happened to face time for John and Jane Citizen who are raising two kids and they’ve got two jobs a piece and the kids don’t have insurance? What about face time for them and the problems they’re facing? Those are the problems that the country is facing.”

The film features commentary from a number of DeLay critics, including Lou Dubose, author of The Hammer: Tom DeLay: God, Money, and the Rise of the Republican Congress, columnist Molly Ivins, defeated political rival Martin Frost, Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice, and others. It also contains interviews with some Republican state lawmakers in Texas and attorneys for the defendants in the case (DeLay himself declined to cooperate with the filmmakers).

At one point in the picture, Rosemary Lemberg, an assistant district attorney in Earle’s office, explains that Earle singlehandedly pushed forward the DeLay investigation over the objections of colleagues. “Ronnie was the only person in maybe a group of six or seven lawyers in a room who thought we ought to go ahead and investigate and look at those things,” Lemberg says. “We got sued every time we turned around, we got taken to court over this, and Ronnie was the one who just kept pushing forward with it, and saying ‘I’ll put more resources on this, just keep hacking at it.’”

Though the film’s tone is admiring, the filmmakers allow Earle’s critics to suggest that, given the sometimes highly politicized nature of his opinions, he should perhaps work in some field other than law enforcement. “The problem that Ronnie has is that he sees something that he believes is wrong,” says Roy Minton, an attorney for one of the organizations investigated by Earle. “If you ask him, when he says, ‘They’re doing this’ and ‘They’re doing that,’ you say, ‘Alright, let’s assume they’re doing that, Ronnie, is that against the law?’ He will say it’s wrong. You say, ‘Well, OK, let’s assume that it’s wrong. Where is it that it is against the law?’”

Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of the new book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President–and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.

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