|Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore|
by Jack Newfield
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Two investigative bombs with long fuses are sizzling under Tom DeLay, America's Machiavelli of gerrymandering and shakedown fundraising. They both involve active grand juries investigating alleged money-laundering and campaign finance abuses. DeLay, House majority leader, is still laughing off these probes in public, but he has hired criminal attorneys and begun a defense fund.
The first bomb involves the Senate's Indian Affairs Committee, led by John McCain. It is scheduled to hold a hearing on September 29 into the alleged fleecing of Indian tribes by two of DeLay's closest allies, lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Mike Scanlon. They have been paid more than $45 million over three years by casino-owning tribes for services that remain unclear. Dissidents in these tribes, who have asked to testify, claim they were duped and that most tribal members were kept in the dark about these exorbitant fees. Roy Fletcher, spokesman for the Coushatta tribe of Louisiana's pro-casino faction, which retained Abramoff, says the tribe is investigating whether it got what it paid for.
But while the hearing may expose some wrongdoing, the more threatening aspect of the Washington probe involves the FBI and a federal grand jury that has been meeting for months. Federal prosecutors have assembled a war room full of banking and billing records as well as e-mails from Abramoff and Scanlon. They are focusing on the laundering of money for personal extravagances and political campaigns.
DeLay's name may not even come up much during the Senate testimony, but in Washington he is widely regarded as the enabler of these two avatars of avarice. DeLay has adroitly disavowed his two friends--a sign of how much The Hammer has to hide.
Last year, in introducing DeLay, Abramoff declared that Tom Delay is "who all of us want to be when we grow up." Now he is on his own going into the hearing--distanced by DeLay and kicked out of his law firm, Greenberg Traurig, for taking more than $10 million in payments from Scanlon and not telling the firm. As an example of how close the relationship once appeared to be, the law firm of Abramoff, a hard-line right-winger, was paid $7.9 million over six years by the US Protectorate of the Mariana Islands to keep the garment sweatshop haven exempt from US minimum-wage laws. When the Senate repealed the exemption, DeLay killed the repeal in the House. Abramoff, his former law firm and his Indian clients have donated more than $100,000 to DeLay's PACs since 2000. Scanlon was DeLay's press secretary during the Clinton impeachment and became Abramoff's protégé.
Abramoff and Scanlon enriched themselves with tribal funds meant for education, housing and healthcare, according to the Senate staffers and an independent audit of the Coushatta tribe. They also directed about $1.5 million into Republican campaigns from the eleven tribes they represented. Tribes that gave to Democrats in the 1990s started giving to the GOP once they hired Abramoff and Scanlon. The Agua Caliente tribe of California gave $100,000 to the Republican National Committee right after they hired Abramoff in 2002, while the Saginaw Chippewas of Michigan gave $18,000 to DeLay's PAC and the Tigua tribe of Texas gave $92,000 to GOP PACs after they hired Abramoff. Scanlon's consulting company donated $500,000 to the Republican Governors Association, funds that originated with the eleven tribes, who constituted 90 percent of Scanlon's business. Abramoff himself donated to twenty-three Republican campaigns, including those of six senators and twelve Congressmen, all right-wing favorites of DeLay, like Richard Pombo, Johnny Isakson and Ernest Istook.
A big question about the hearing is whether the committee will subpoena Ralph Reed, who is now running the Bush ground campaign in five Southern states. The anti-gambling Reed has been a stealth partner of Abramoff and Scanlon, getting paid at least $4 million through Scanlon's companies to block competing casinos from cutting into the profits of the existing Coushatta casino in Louisiana. I first reported these covert payments in the July 12 issue of The Nation. Reed denied them for two months but finally admitted getting this money, to Alabama's Montgomery Advertiser, after a federal grand jury subpoenaed all his financial records involving Abramoff, Scanlon and Indian gambling.
The second bomb is sizzling in Texas, where a grand jury has just indicted three close associates of DeLay on charges of violating a state law banning corporate funding of political activity. Democratic county prosecutor Ronnie Earle has been investigating DeLay's fundraising chicanery involving the PAC of Texans for a Republican Majority. The essence of the probe is that TRMPAC illegally contributed corporate money to elect fourteen GOP state legislators in 2002 to gain state legislative control for the first time in 130 years, and then used this majority to crudely gerrymander Texas Congressional districts so that four Democrats might lose their seats this November. DeLay, who was chairman of an advisory board for the Republican Majority group, claims the probe is driven by partisan politics.
Under Texas law, the $600,000 in corporate donations could be used only for the PAC's administrative costs, like rent. But instead it was used for polling, fundraising and phone banks, according to the PAC's own public filings. TRMPAC also wired the Republican National Committee $190,000 in corporate "soft money"; two weeks later the RNC mailed legal "hard money" checks to seven state GOP candidates totaling exactly $190,000. The RNC called this "a coincidence." Among the donors to TRMPAC was Abramoff's law firm at the time, Preston, Gates & Ellis, and two tribes associated with him, for a total of $31,000 in 2000.
Tom DeLay, driven by an alloy of ideology and money, will likely be the next Speaker of the House if the GOP remains in control. That is, if these bombs don't blow up in his face first.
On September 21, three top aides to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) were indicted on charges of illegally raising political funds from corporations in 2002. Major newspapers carried the story, some of them on the front page -- but the evening newscasts on the three major TV networks did not.
As The Washington Post noted on September 22, the grand jury has not questioned DeLay or sought records from him, but the fund-raising activities in question "were at the heart of one of DeLay's most cherished, high-profile endeavors of the past several years: giving Republicans control of the Texas legislature so the state's 32 U.S. House districts could be redrawn in a way likely to send more Republicans to Congress." Both The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times pointed out on September 22 that the charges against DeLay's aides come at a time when DeLay himself is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. The Los Angeles Times stated that the investigation pertains to "improperly involving a federal agency in a Texas partisan matter, soliciting campaign contributions in return for legislative favors, and violating campaign finance laws."
The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Houston Chronicle carried front-page stories on the indictments on September 22, and a LexisNexis database search for September 21 and September 22 news reports on the indictments returned 84 results.*
Yet ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News failed to report the indictments on September 21 and on September 22.
09/22/2004 @ 10:30am permalink
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The Daily Outrage will periodically expose some of the many odious characters populating American politics today. We're calling it the "Nefarious Character Watch." So it's fitting that we begin with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay - aka "The Hammer" - easily one of the most ruthless and corrupt power-brokers in Congress. He's like Gingrich - except with more pull and less profile.
This June Representative Chris Bell filed a lengthy three-part report alleging that Delay: 1) illegally channeled corporate donations to Texas state legislative races in violation of state election laws; 2) took money from Westar Energy in exchange for an amendment to save the company billions of dollars; and 3) improperly directed the Department of Homeland Security to hunt down the Texas legislators who fled to Oklahoma in protest of Delay's iron-fisted 2003 Texas redistricting scheme. The House Ethics Committee's ninety-day inquiry into Bell's charges expired Monday.
Now, deadlocked on how to proceed despite overwhelming evidence condemning DeLay, the ten- member panel will likely vote to dismiss the investigation on 5-5 partisan lines, invoking the never-before-used "option of last resort." At least one Republican would have to break party ranks for the probe to proceed. That's unlikely given that four of the five Republicans on the panel have accepted campaign contributions from DeLay's political action committee. He's both their benefactor and boss.
Just yesterday a Texas grand jury indicted three consultants with DeLay's political action committee and eight corporate donors for ilegally influencing the 2002 Texas State Legislature elections, in which Republicans gained a majority for the first time since Reconstruction. Everyone's guilty except the main man himself.
Eight nonpartisan watchdog groups and DeLay's home-state newspaper, The Dallas Morning News - hardly a bastion of lovey-dovey liberalism - have called on Congress to appoint an outside counsel, based on prior investigations of House Speakers Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich. "If ever there was a good time to bring in an impartial investigator, this is it," the paper wrote.
To drive the point home, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington ran newspaper ads in the home districts of the ranking Republican and Democrat of the committee calling for immediate action and showing an ostrich with its head in the sand.
A sloth may be more apt. Under one of the most right-wing Congresses in American history, investigations into Abu Ghraib, missing WMDs and bribery on the House floor fall by the wayside. In DeLay's Washington, ethics rarely talks, and money always walks.
Published: September 20, 2004
The House ethics committee, ever the Capitol's hibernating watchdog, has been dithering for months about allegations that the majority leader, Tom DeLay, abused his office when he engineered the gerrymander of Texas House seats to cushion his Republican edge in Congress.
The committee should have at least approved a formal inquiry by now, but the latest reports indicate that the issue will soon be deep-sixed as the Republican Congress shows no appetite for investigating Mr. DeLay, one of Washington's most feared and bare-knuckled partisans.
Committee leaders claim to be still fact-gathering, but it has becoming clear that their mission is to dismiss this hot potato yet not seem cowardly about it. One gambit is called the "option of last resort" under ethics rules: punting the issue to the evenly divided panel. Unless there's a profile in courage in the wings, this would mean a 5-to-5 deadlock on party lines and no inquiry. The "option of last resort" is really a political magic wand to make the duties of office vaporize.
The far better option is to appoint an outside counsel to look into the charges, as was done in earlier ethics investigations of Speakers Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich. Mr. DeLay's role in the redistricting power play, right down to his personal visit to lobby the Austin statehouse, is a matter of record.
What is in dispute are the charges from one of the Democratic losers in the gerrymander, Representative Chris Bell, that Mr. DeLay improperly offered favors for campaign donations, laundered funds to bolster his party clout in Texas and sicced federal agencies on runaway Democratic lawmakers who boycotted the state redistricting vote.
Mr. DeLay insists that there is no substance to the charges and that Mr. Bell, a primary-fight loser under the skewed Texas remap, has filed 187 pages of sour grapes. Mr. DeLay has called on the committee to clear his name by dismissing the charges. A "last resort" deadlock would not be a clean bill of health, but a typically cynical evasion by politicians feeling the heat. The ethics committee might try the true last resort and begin taking itself seriously.
2:09 p.m. September 15, 2004
WASHINGTON – Allegations that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay misused his office will be on the House ethics committee's agenda as early as next week.
After several months of gathering evidence, the committee must decide whether to launch a formal investigation of the Texas Republican or dismiss the case. There is no deadline limiting the time for the committee of five Republicans and five Democrats to act.
A three-part complaint is now before the committee.
Two allegations directly involve use of DeLay's congressional office. One accuses him of soliciting corporate contributions in return for assistance on legislation.
A second contends he improperly used his staff to contact U.S. aviation authorities, asking them to track down Texas Democratic legislators who had fled the state while trying to thwart a DeLay-backed redistricting plan.
The third allegation accuses DeLay of using his political action committees to distribute money from corporations to Texas legislative candidates, in violation of state law.
DeLay has replied to the committee, but has not released his response publicly.
Any investigation of DeLay would have political overtones, since he has great influence over which bills move through the House and also supports the campaigns of GOP members.
Some House Democratic leaders have strongly criticized his conduct, but they let Rep. Chris Bell – a freshman Texas Democrat defeated in the primary – to file the complaint.
Committee members said they expect the panel, formally the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, to meet next week.
Chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colo., said he and ranking Democrat Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., will make recommendations to the committee based on the fact-finding inquiry by the panel's staff.
If the Democrats all vote for a formal investigation, at least one Republican would have to join them to initiate the inquiry.
"I would be amazed if there was a 5-5 deadlock," Hefley said.
DeLay said this week, "The ethics committee will do the right thing."
Associated Press Writer Suzanne Gamboa contributed to this story.