The rise and–especially–the fall of Tom DeLay is the subject of this cheeky documentary, a sort of David-and-Goliath tale that pits the powerful Washington congressman against Austin D.A. Ronnie Earle, whose indictment of the Republican Majority Leader on a variety of election-law violations in Texas ultimately brought “The Hammer” down for good. The title of “The Big Buy” refers in the most general sense to the expanded role of corporate money and funds from lobbyists that DeLay encouraged in the House (which gave rise to practices now the subject of federal investigation, of course). But more specifically it points to the offense with which he was charged in his home state, of funneling corporate contributions into local legislative races–prohibited under Texas law–as part of his drive to push a congressional redistricting scheme through the state legislature and thereby add five secure new Republican seats to the Texas congressional delegation in order to cement his control in Washington.
If DeLay is clearly the villain of the picture, there’s also a hero–Earle, the long-time Democratic district attorney in the capital, whose office includes control of the public integrity unit overseeing the state government. As portrayed here, the D.A., who welcomed the filmmakers and gave them ample interview opportunities (as opposed to DeLay, who rejected all overtures and so has to be caught on the fly, as it were), is a prototypical straight-shooter intent on seeing to it that big money is not allowed to corrupt the political process–something he sees as the virtual root of all evil.
Where the filmmakers’ hearts lie is clearly shown not only in the demonization of DeLay and the lionization of Earle, but in the commentators chosen to discuss the events. These include Jim Hightower, former Texas Agricultural Commission, and gadfly writer Molly Ivins, both noted liberal voices (as well as Democratic legislators taken down by DeLay’s tactics). Even the two Republican women who are filmed driving around DeLay’s district and discussing the GOP are spokespersons for the old, pre-Tom party and have little good to say of DeLay and the sort of evangelically-based support he’s cultivated. And there’s a definite sense of triumph in the closing montage showing DeLay’s announcement that he was giving up his 2006 re-election bid and resigning from Congress after Earle’s indictment forced him, under Republican rules, to step down from the House leadership.
But though it’s clearly partisan, cut to a briskly efficient 75 minutes “The Big Buy” is engaging, and often very funny. For some viewers, it will be a simple hatchet-job; for others, a joy to watch. The truth is, it’s both.