Thursday, October 06, 2005

Money laundering and the economic substance doctrine in tax

One of the emerging DeLay defenses under the money laundering indictment is that he followed the law banning corporate contributions in Texas, because there were no such contributions. Thus, if Texas corporations gave $190,000 to the Republican National Committee, which immediately gave $190,000 to DeLay's gerrymandering jihad, supposedly the law has been followed.

The notion that this is no less illlegal than direct forbidden contributions, and constitutes attempted evasion of the Texas rules via money laundering, is identical to the economic substance doctrine in the income tax, whereby pointless paper-shuffling transactions that have no significance or purpose are disregarded as shams. In both areas, the doctrine is needed to stop people from making a mockery of the laws. Also in both, it means that people just have to go to the effort of differentiating the offsetting transactions a bit, with line-drawing questions regarding whether one has added enough sand to get away with it.

In the DeLay case as set forth in the indictment, it's not even a close call. Clearcut money laundering, cruder and more obvious, even, than the typical KPMG tax shelter.

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