|Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore|
The New Yorker
by Hendrik Hertzberg
Issue of 2005-04-25
A current Washington joke, in the mordant style that used to be a Moscow specialty, has it that Republicans and Democrats have finally found something they can agree on: Tom DeLay must stay as the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives.
The DeLay Must Stay movement, like all popular fronts and uneasy alliances, brings together participants of varying motives. Republican members want to continue being led by the Texas bug exterminator turned hard-right Christianist crusader because they agree with him on the great political and religious issues of the day; because he is nice to them, feeding them pizza when they have to work late and finding places for the smokers among them to indulge without having to shiver on the Capitol steps; because they are terrified of him, on account of his well-deserved reputation for vengefulness; because he saved them from losing House seats in the 2004 election by persuading Texas to adopt a precedent-breaking mid-decade gerrymander that netted their party an overall gain of three seats; because he has raised millions for their campaigns, mostly from business interests that have reaped billions and expect to reap billions more from the policies he promotes; and because, using threats and inducements, he has insured that the choicest, highest-paying, most enviable lobbying jobs on Washington’s K Street corridor go overwhelmingly to Republicans in general and DeLay loyalists in particular. Democrats don’t mind if DeLay stays a while, because he is so repellent. Self-righteous, humorless, resentful, scowling, perpetually angry, he has many of the irritating qualities of his former colleague Newt Gingrich without any of the latter’s childlike charms. (There are no DeLay equivalents of Gingrich’s boyish enthusiasms for dinosaurs, sci-fi fantasies, and big, shiny theories of History.) And then there are the scandals, which cling to the Majority Leader like flakes of dandruff.
DeLay’s ethical lapses center on campaign-finance chicanery, with sidelines in petty nepotism and lavish trips to exotic locales near golf courses. The details tend to be numbingly dull—there are no Monicas or burglaries to spice them up—but the lapses themselves are real enough. Last year, three of them attracted the attention of the House ethics committee, which formally (though toothlessly) “admonished” him, making him one of only three representatives, and the only repeat offender, to be disciplined in the past three years. DeLay has since had the three most unreliable Republicans removed and replaced with stooges, and the ethics committee has devolved from torpid to moribund. But various newspapers (not just bastions of the coastal “liberal media” like the Times and the Washington Post but also red-state gazettes like the American Press, of Lake Charles, Louisiana) have continued to make inquiries, as has the (Democratic) district attorney for Austin, Texas, Ronnie Earle, who has already indicted three of DeLay’s closest associates and eight of their corporate donors. So far, only one serving Republican congressman—Christopher Shays, of Connecticut—has openly called upon DeLay to give up his leadership post. But cracks are beginning to appear in the outer wall. “delay must go” was the title last week of an editorial in the staunchly Republican Richmond Times-Dispatch. The editorialists of the Wall Street Journal, who last year dismissed ethics criticisms of DeLay as “amusing,” now write sternly, “Mr. DeLay, who rode to power in 1994 on a wave of revulsion at the everyday ways of big government, has become the living exemplar of some of its worst habits.” The headline on that one was “smells like beltway.”
What is most odiferous about DeLay, however, is not his Tammany-like antics but his Torquemada-like ones. The current fuss reached the boiling point on March 31st, when, after the body of Terri Schiavo was allowed to expire, DeLay—in a prepared statement, not an off-the-cuff remark—warned ominously, “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today.” The anodyne interpretation of this is that DeLay was talking about the hereafter, where various members of the Florida and federal judiciaries, having died of presumably natural causes, will stand before their Maker, who will proceed to drop-kick them into the fiery pit. Some observers, noting the recent spate of actual, attempted, and threatened assassinations of judges, perceived a touch of this-worldly incitement; Senator Frank Lautenberg, of New Jersey, suggested that DeLay might have violated a statute outlawing such threats against federal judges.
Meanwhile, as new ethics allegations surfaced, DeLay huddled with colleagues from the other body for a strategy session. According to the Associated Press:
His private remarks to Senate Republicans were in keeping with the response frequently offered on his behalf by House Republicans: Blame the Democrats and occasionally the news media for the scrutiny he faces. House Republicans intend to follow the script later in the week, hoping to showcase passage of bankruptcy legislation and estate tax repeal as a counterpoint to Democratic charges that they are merely power-hungry.
The hope, evidently, was to deflect charges of being merely power-hungry by inviting charges of being—on behalf of wealthy contributors—merely money-hungry. (The bankruptcy bill, which has since passed, is a gift to the banking and credit-card industries; estate-tax repeal, still pending in the Senate, would be an even bigger gift to the superrich.) Where DeLay is concerned, at least, the ploy hasn’t worked. Gingrich, of all people, has now called upon DeLay to account for himself. (“DeLay’s problem isn’t with the Democrats,” the former Speaker told the “CBS Evening News” last week. “DeLay’s problem is with the country.”)
Finally, last Wednesday, DeLay expressed regret for the style of his March 31st remarks. “I said something in an inartful way, and I shouldn’t have said it that way, and I apologize for saying it that way,” he said at a news conference. No apologies for the substance, though. “I believe in an independent judiciary,” he said, and went on to explain what he meant: “We”—Congress—“set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse.” He declined to say whether the judges in the Schiavo case should be impeached, though that particular remedy for “judicial activism” is one that he has been advocating since 1997.
Earlier that day, DeLay had given an interview to the Washington Times, the far right’s daily organ in the capital. For the most part, he was careful to avoid getting himself in more trouble. “I’m not sure I want to go there,” he said in answer to a question about which bits of the government he’d like to abolish. And, to a question about Israeli settlements in the West Bank: “You’re not going to get me in a fight with the President.” But when asked who is to blame for “activist judges,” he was jaw-droppingly candid:
I blame Congress over the last fifty to a hundred years for not standing up and taking its responsibility given to it by the Constitution. The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a separation of church and state that’s nowhere in the Constitution is that Congress didn’t stop them. The reason we had judicial review is because Congress didn’t stop them. The reason we had a right to privacy is because Congress didn’t stop them.
So there you have it, the DeLay agenda: no separation of church and state, no judicial review, no right to privacy. Next to this, the President’s effort to repeal the New Deal social contract by phasing out Social Security is the mewing of a kitten. DeLay may stay or DeLay may go. But the real danger is not DeLay himself. It’s DeLay’s agenda. It’s his vision. It’s his “values.”
Judge rules DeLay ally broke law
The Washington Post
Published May 27, 2005
AUSTIN, Texas -- A state judge ruled Thursday that the treasurer of a political fundraising committee organized by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) violated the state's election law by failing to report $684,507 in contributions from corporations and other donors in 2002.
The civil court decision is the first to uphold a complaint by Democrats about the way DeLay and his advisers financed a 2002 political victory in Texas, which ultimately helped cement Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Following a plan devised by the DeLay camp, the fundraising committee, Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), helped elect the first Republican majority in the Texas House in 130 years. That allowed DeLay's allies in the Legislature to redraw congressional districts and elect four additional Republicans to the U.S. House in 2004.
The decision by state District Judge Joseph Hart focused on the liability of the committee's treasurer, Bill Ceverha, and did not mention DeLay, who has denied involvement in any improprieties. The judge did not rule on the wider issue of whether the contributions themselves--as opposed to the failure to report them--were illegal.
Separate criminal charges related to that issue, including indictments of three political associates of DeLay and four of the corporations that provided contributions, are pending in another Texas court.
Five defeated Texas Democratic Legislature candidates brought the lawsuit, and they were awarded a total of $196,660.
At issue were the activities of TRMPAC, created in 2001 by DeLay and his advisers to reorder the state and national political maps. Documents spelled out how DeLay, who served on the committee's board, wrote a cover letter for its fundraising brochure, and called or met with donors at dinners and other events, where he sometimes solicited their views on pending federal legislation. DeLay's attorneys have claimed, however, that he was not involved in the group's day-to-day operations.
The donors included Philip Morris USA, Bacardi USA, AT&T Corp. and Sears, Roebuck and Co.
Hart rejected arguments that the election law was unconstitutional and that the corporate funds were used for "administrative" purposes and were legal and not covered by reporting requirements under Texas election law.
DeLay Upset Over 'Law & Order' Line
Friday, May 27, 2005
(05-27) 09:53 PDT WASHINGTON, (AP) --
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is upset that a popular NBC crime drama used his name as part of its show.
DeLay wrote NBC to complain that one of the characters on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" invoked his name in a story line about the shooting death of a federal judge. "Maybe we should put out an APB for somebody in a Tom DeLay T-shirt," the fictional police officer said.
DeLay, in a letter to NBC Universal Television chief Jeff Zucker, called that reference a "slur."
"This manipulation of my name and trivialization of the sensitive issue of judicial security represents a reckless disregard for the suffering initiated by recent tragedies and a great disservice to public discourse," he said.
DeLay, R-Texas, criticized the federal judiciary after the courts refused to stop the death of Terri Schiavo. "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior," he said in a statement on March 31, hours after Schiavo died.
DeLay apologized the next week, saying he had spoken in an "inartful" way and meant that Congress should increase its oversight of the courts.
"This isolated piece of gritty 'cop talk' was neither a political comment nor an accusation," NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said. "It's not unusual for L & O to mention real names in its fictional stories. We're confident in our viewers' ability to distinguish between the two."
Creator/executive producer Dick Wolf added: "But I do congratulate Congressman DeLay for switching the spotlight from his own problems to an episode of a television show."
Dean asserts DeLay `may end up in jail'
Items compiled from Tribune news services
Published May 23, 2005
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Sunday that "there's a reasonable chance" House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) "may end up in jail."
"I don't think I'm prejudging him," Dean said on NBC's "Meet the Press" program. Referring to actions for which DeLay is under investigation, he said, "I think there's a reasonable chance that this may end up in jail."
The former Vermont governor made a similar statement two weeks ago
Dean's remarks Sunday prompted a derisive response.
"Leading a party with no ideas, no solutions, and no agenda, Howard Dean's latest antics . . . shows the sad state the Democrats have sunk to," said Dan Allen, DeLay's press secretary.
DeLay faces a new inquiry to determine whether he broke House rules concerning travel. He has not been charged with any crime.
Audit questions accounting used by DeLay committee
Records show ARMPAC revised campaign reports for 2001 and 2002
By R. JEFFREY SMITH and DEREK WILLIS
WASHINGTON - An interim federal audit of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's principal fund-raising committee has found that the group engaged in some inappropriate accounting of receipts and expenditures, prompting it to revise all campaign reports for 2001 and 2002, according to a knowledgeable government official and public records.
The group, Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC), is a giant among committees established by House and Senate lawmakers to finance their own political campaigns and those of colleagues. Several thousand individual and corporate contributors have given a total of $13.2 million to ARMPAC since 1999; the committee has in turn spent millions to help DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and fellow Republicans win re-election.
DeLay's aides have not detailed what ARMPAC did wrong in its filings to the Federal Election Commission or explained why the group made the revisions this week, before the commission's audit is completed. A spokesman for DeLay, Dan Allen, said Thursday that he could not comment.
Ian Stirton, spokesman for the Federal Election Commission, declined to comment, saying officials are barred from discussing even whether an audit is under way.
The government official who confirmed the audit requested anonymity for the same reason.
The committee's revised filings, published Wednesday by the FEC, omitted $15,523 in contributions it had previously listed and included $51,755 in expenditures it did not previously report.
Those amounts represent, respectively, less than 1 percent of the $1.746 million in itemized contributions that ARMPAC collected during those years and 1.5 percent of the $3.298 million in federally regulated funds that it spent on election races.
For the first time, the revised filings also listed as short-term debts some items listed as expenditures.
One example is a postponed $5,732.90 payment in 2002 for food and drinks at a fund-raiser held by DeLay at a resort in Puerto Rico owned by contributor Charles Hurwitz.
FEC regulations require that all such debts be reported promptly to ensure a public accounting of sums that amount to short-term gifts and loans, even if the debts are eventually paid.
The revised filings also for the first time list a debt of $121,456 from ARMPAC's regulated campaign account to a separate ARMPAC account that took in unregulated donations in those years.
Jan Baran, a Republican lawyer who specializes in campaign law, said the listing of this debt means that ARMPAC improperly used unregulated campaign contributions to finance certain expenses during those years.
Unregulated contributions are those donated directly by corporations, unions or other wealthy donors, often in excess of the limits imposed on contributions to regulated funds.
The use of unregulated contributions by federal lawmakers was prohibited by a campaign finance law enacted in 2002.
That circumstance adds a wrinkle to the issue of how ARMPAC can now redress its mistake. Essentially, its debt is to an entity that no longer exists.
Baran says he could not assess whether any of the revisions made by ARMPAC represent serious mistakes until the FEC releases a final audit report and he sees whether the errors have attracted the interest of its office of general counsel, which can bring legal action and assess financial penalties.
Cracks appear in DeLay's home district
By Howard Witt
Tribune senior correspondent
Published May 15, 2005
SUGAR LAND, Texas -- Local Republican leaders insist all is well here amid the new million-dollar homes, upscale shopping malls and glistening megachurches that have come to characterize the suburban prosperity and bedrock conservatism of Congressman Tom DeLay's home district.
But beneath the well-manicured lawns and pristine artificial lakes that abound in planned communities that comprise much of DeLay's district, rumblings of discontent are beginning to be felt in this area south of Houston as turmoil grows back in Washington over the House majority leader's alleged ethical lapses.
Several recent polls, as well as last November's election results, suggest DeLay's core support among Republican voters is slipping as the allegations against him mount. Some outspoken local Republicans have braved rebukes from party leaders and publicly spoken out against him. Credible Democratic challengers have begun to test the waters in preparation for next year's race. And DeLay himself has stepped up the frequency of his speeches and appearances back home.
Party leaders here say that the loyal Republican voters in House District 22 who have offered DeLay safe harbor for 11 consecutive terms in Congress are untroubled by the controversies swirling around him over his close connections to lobbyists, his foreign trips and his use of campaign funds.
"I think everything here is fine," said Eric Thode, the chairman of the Ft. Bend County Republican Party. "This district is not going to be won by a Democrat."
But Beverly Carter, a Republican precinct chairwoman and publisher of the Ft. Bend Southwest Star, thinks Thode is whistling past the golf course when he pronounces himself untroubled.
"I guarantee you he is just pretending. Eric knows better than that," said Carter, who endorsed DeLay's Democratic opponent in last year's election. "Most people won't say anything bad about Tom because they are afraid of him and what might happen to them. ... But the fact that he was admonished by the ethics committee three times last year, all of that is starting to be noticed."
District 60% Republican
No one here, not even the most optimistic Democrat, is predicting DeLay's imminent political demise in a district that is 60 percent Republican. Instead, the talk is of "trends" and "dynamics" and "worst-case scenarios" for the powerful congressional leader.
"Tom DeLay does not suffer from hubris about his own political fortunes," said Robert Stein, a political scientist who is dean of Rice University's social sciences department. "He's back in the district doing the things you have to do to shore up support....
"The evidence is not there yet that the bad news about Tom DeLay has eroded enough of his support to make a difference," Stein added. "But it's moving in that direction."
Stein divines that direction in part from a Houston Chronicle poll in April that showed 49 percent of those surveyed would vote for someone other than DeLay in the next election. A SurveyUSA poll this month showed that 51 percent of those questioned in DeLay's district disapproved of his performance as a congressman.
DeLay's critics contend the slippage actually started last November, when he beat his Democratic challenger, Sugar Land environmental lawyer Richard Morrison, by a margin of 55 percent to 41 percent. DeLay's numbers were down from previous elections, when he often pulled more than 60 percent of the vote in his district.
"This is a man who first ran for Congress saying we need a congressman who is not beholden to lobbyists," said Morrison, who recently decided against another challenge because his mother has fallen ill with cancer. "Now he's become what he campaigned against."
But DeLay's defenders say his support is solid and that he actually engineered the export of some of his loyal Republican voters into neighboring congressional districts, as part of the controversial 2003 Texas redistricting that helped unseat four incumbent Democrats in last November's elections.
Some in DeLay's home district say they are most concerned by the allegations of unethical conduct that are due to be examined by the House ethics committee. DeLay stands accused of having taken trips underwritten by lobbyists, in violation of House ethics rules, and he is under fire for his ties to one lobbyist in particular who is under federal investigation.
DeLay has vigorously denied that he ever broke any rules.
"The ethics issues are sort of icing on the cake, or dirt on the grave," said Patricia Baig, a substitute teacher in DeLay's district and self-described lifelong Republican who bought an advertisement in a local paper last month urging protesters to attend an anti-DeLay rally.
Others were troubled by DeLay's drive to have Congress intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose husband sought to have her artificial feeding tube removed but whose parents fought to keep her alive. Schiavo died March 31, nearly two weeks after the courts ordered the feeding tube removed.
The Chronicle poll in April showed that nearly 58 percent of those questioned disapproved of DeLay's decision to get Congress involved in case.
"DeLay's district has got an eastern part that is strongly religiously conservative, but much of the district has got sort of upscale professionals, and the Schiavo case hurt him with a lot of these more traditional, economic Republicans who are not the religious right," said Richard Murray, director of the Center for Public Policy at the University of Houston.
Wife, daughter paid $500,000
Still others in the district were angered over revelations that DeLay had paid his wife and daughter more than $500,000 from campaign funds since 2001 for their work on his political campaigns--a practice commonly employed by many others in Congress.
"What grabs people's attention the most was the fact that Tom had paid his wife and daughter over half a million dollars in the last four years," said Carter, the Republican precinct chairwoman. "They see them all the time, and they know they are not working."
DeLay's defenders roundly dismiss all of the criticism as partisan sniping engineered by those who oppose DeLay's strongly conservative leadership in the House.
"Congressman DeLay's constituents know him best, know where he stands on the issues and know he's been working hard to deliver for them," said Dan Allen, DeLay's spokesman in Washington. "The constituents are seeing these attacks for what they are, which is a highly partisan attack by the Democrats and their allies."
Thode, the Ft. Bend County Republican chairman, acknowledged that DeLay's intervention in the Schiavo case may have alienated some voters. But he said that anger will have dissipated by the time voters really begin focusing on next year's congressional race.
"Clearly, that's one of those that had a visceral response for a lot of people," said Thode. "Six months, twelve months from now, it's a non-story."
Not, however, if the Democrats can help it. They sense an opening created by DeLay's troubles in Washington, and they fully intend to exploit it.
Two weeks ago, former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, who lost his seat last year as a result of the redistricting orchestrated by DeLay, announced his intention to move into District 22 and challenge the Republican leader.
Conservatives salute Republican leader DeLay
May 12, 11:24 PM (ET)
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Conservative activists pledged their support for embattled Republican House leader Tom DeLay at a dinner tribute on Thursday, and accused his foes of politically motivated attacks designed to cripple the conservative movement's most effective leader.
More than 900 conservatives paid $250 a plate to attend the dinner at a downtown Washington hotel and cheer the Texas congressman, who condemned Democrats as the party of no ideas and "no class."
"We've spent 10 years making history while Democratic leaders have spent 10 years making noise," DeLay said in a speech to supporters that did not directly mention the swirl of ethics allegations against him.
DeLay was admonished three times last year by the House of Representatives ethics panel and has been battling a wave of ethics problems involving fund raising, foreign travel and his relationships with lobbyists.
Three DeLay aides face charges in Texas of illegally raising money from corporations, and the House panel is expected to open a probe soon of new DeLay allegations.
DeLay's supporters said he was under attack because of his effectiveness, and said his troubles were a challenge for the entire conservative movement.
"The message tonight is, 'If they pick a fight with Tom DeLay, they pick a fight with all of us,"' said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
Former congressman and vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp said DeLay's success as the No. 2 Republican in the House was "probably why he is being attacked."
FIGHT FOR VALUES
"We're here tonight not because Tom needs our help, but because we as conservatives continue to need his," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, the primary sponsor of the dinner.
"We are here tonight because when one of our own is unfairly attacked we have an obligation to ourselves and to the values we fight for to stand up for him."
Organizers said they deliberately did not try to build attendance among lobbyists or DeLay's fellow Republicans in Congress, although both were represented at the dinner, and focused instead on the movement's grass roots activists.
"The people who are at this dinner are the people who make up the conservative movement," Keene told reporters.
Referring to the wide Washington avenue that houses many of the biggest lobbying firms, Keene said: "This dinner isn't for the boys and girls on K Street."
Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 3 House Republican, sat at the head table with DeLay, along with Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman and a host of conservative leaders.
Democrats ridiculed the dinner and said it was more evidence of DeLay's ties to special interests.
A fund-raising appeal sent by the House Democratic campaign committee while the dinner was occurring asked Democrats to "celebrate Tom DeLay's high achievements in influence peddling" with a donation to the anti-DeLay "Hammer the Hammer Fund."
"If Tom DeLay is the 'conservative movement,' then that is a sad movement indeed -- and certainly nothing to go around celebrating," Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said in the e-mail appeal.
A few dozen protesters, some dressed as clowns and barkers in a street theater "carnival of corruption," greeted attendees outside the hotel that hosted the dinner. Some held signs reading "Feed the Needy, Not the Greedy" and "Congress -- bought and paid for by Tom DeLay."
Several speakers blamed the media for DeLay's problems.
"This is a media out of control in their commitment to bringing down this man," said Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center. "Are the media blinded by red-hot hostility to this man? Yes."
DeLay Allies Seek Dismissal of Charges
Law on Political Gifts Called Too Vague
By Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 12, 2005; A03
AUSTIN, May 11 -- Two political associates of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) asked a judge Wednesday to throw out indictments that charge them with money laundering and unlawfully accepting corporate political contributions during the 2002 Texas legislative campaign.
Travis County District Judge Bob Perkins set a June 27 deadline to issue a ruling on the requests.
Lawyers for Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, who ran DeLay-founded political action committees, argued that the felony indictments were based on an unconstitutionally vague Texas law that governs the use of corporate political contributions. State law bars businesses and labor unions from contributing money to influence campaigns. But such money may be used to establish a political committee or pay for a committee's administrative costs, such as office rent and utilities.
At issue in this case is whether spending corporate money on pollsters, consultants and phone banks falls under the definition of administrative costs and not "express advocacy" for a candidate.
"The statute is over-broad, and it's vague," said J.D. Pauerstein, an attorney for Ellis, the director of DeLay's Washington-based political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority. During the 2002 election cycle, Ellis worked closely with Colyandro, then the executive director of Texans for a Republican Majority, also created by DeLay and based in Austin.
"We believe our indictment is correct and that the law is not unconstitutional. That will be our position in everything we file from here on," said Travis County Assistant District Attorney Gregg Cox.
Also in contention in the case is whether the transfer of $190,000 in corporate funds by Ellis and Colyandro to the Republican National State Elections Committee -- which subsequently donated the equivalent amount to seven GOP statehouse candidates supported by TRMPAC -- constituted money laundering.
TRMPAC is credited with helping to secure the election of a Republican majority to the Texas legislature in November 2002. That led to the appointment of a Republican speaker of the Texas House and the legislative control needed to redraw the state's 32 U.S. House districts in a way likely to send more Republicans to Congress in 2004.
Ellis and Colyandro were indicted last September by a Travis County grand jury on one count of money laundering each. Colyandro also was indicted on 13 counts of unlawful acceptance of a corporate political contribution. Washington consultant and fundraiser Warren RoBold, who helped TRMPAC raise money, was indicted on charges of accepting illegal corporate contributions. His case is proceeding separately and will be back in court June 21.
Eight corporations also were indicted for making illegal contributions to TRMPAC in amounts of $20,000 to $100,000. Charges against four of the businesses have been dropped in exchange for cooperation in the case.
Travis County District Attorney Ronald Earle is scheduled to appear before Perkins on Thursday on a request related to the TRMPAC prosecution. Earle has subpoenaed confidential documents from the Texas Ethics Commission that his office contends will show whether anyone subsequently associated with TRMPAC asked for an opinion on the legality of using corporate donations in a campaign. The commission has refused to turn over the documents despite the advice of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott that it comply.
U.S. conservatives to rally around Tom DeLay
May 10, 3:59 PM (ET)
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Conservative activists, frustrated by Democratic opposition to some of President Bush's key proposals, gather on Thursday to show solidarity with embattled Republican House leader Tom DeLay and pressure wavering supporters to stay in his corner.
Hundreds of conservatives plan a tribute to the Texas congressman, under fierce Democratic attack on a series of ethics charges, to show their support has not been dimmed by what they call the politically motivated allegations.
The dinner also will warn Republicans of the political consequences if they abandon DeLay ahead of looming showdowns over Bush's nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, the president's blocked judicial appointments and his initiatives to overhaul Social Security.
"We think it's important to stand up and signal to both the public and to his fellow Republicans that the conservative movement and organizations are standing with Tom DeLay," said Richard Lessner, executive director of the American Conservative Union, a lobbying group.
Morton Blackwell of the Leadership Institute, which recruits and trains young conservative activists, said, "The message is, if you want support from conservatives in the future, you better be in the forefront of those standing beside Tom DeLay."
Admonished by the U.S. House of Representatives ethics panel three times last year, DeLay is battling a growing tide of ethics problems involving fund raising, foreign travel and relationships with lobbyists.
Three DeLay aides face charges in Texas of illegally raising money from corporations, and the House panel is expected to open a probe of new DeLay allegations soon.
Democrats have cranked up their efforts to link other Republicans with DeLay's ethics cloud, but his Republican supporters shrug off the attacks as a political ploy designed to eliminate an effective conservative leader.
"The strategy on the left is to demonize Tom DeLay and neuter him, make him the poster boy of a corrupt Congress," Lessner said.
Only two Republicans, moderate Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut and conservative Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, have broken with the party and questioned if DeLay should stay in office.
Tickets to the dinner cost $250 or $2,000 a table and will cover the cost of the event. Sponsors, which also include the Heritage Foundation, the Traditional Values Coalition and about a dozen other conservative groups, have sold about 900 tickets.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, said conservatives were frightened by the prospect of a future without DeLay. "I don't think the right wing of the Republican Party believes there is a replacement for Tom DeLay," he said.
Conservatives, riding high after the November elections solidified Republican power, have seen their priorities bog down in recent months under fierce Democratic resistance.
Bush's most conservative judicial nominations have been held up in the U.S. Senate by Democratic filibusters, the nomination of conservative Bolton for U.N. ambassador has been delayed and polls show efforts to overhaul the Social Security retirement system are losing ground.
But conservatives expect Bolton's nomination to go through and are pushing for a confrontation over filibusters that would break the Senate logjam. Shifts in momentum, they said, are part of the Washington political cycle.
Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, said she hoped the dinner would remind conservatives and their opponents of the movement's strength.
"I think it will send a message that the conservative movement is strong and it's deep and it's wide," she said.
Lobbyist Had Close Contact With Bush Team
AP Enterprise: Lobbyist Under Criminal Investigation Had Close Contact With Bush Team
Jack Abramoff, right, listens to his attorney Abbe Lowell on Capitol Hill in this Sept. 29, 2004 file photo, as Abramoff refused to answer questions before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook, Files)
By SHARON THEIMER Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON May 6, 2005 — In President Bush's first 10 months, GOP fundraiser Jack Abramoff and his lobbying team logged nearly 200 contacts with the new administration as they pressed for friendly hires at federal agencies and sought to keep the Northern Mariana Islands exempt from the minimum wage and other laws, records show.
The meetings between Abramoff's lobbying team and the administration ranged from Attorney General John Ashcroft to policy advisers in Vice President Dick Cheney's office, according to his lobbying firm billing records.
Abramoff, a $100,000-plus fundraiser for Bush, is now under criminal investigation for some of his lobbying work. His firm boasted its lobbying team helped revise a section of the Republican Party's 2000 platform to make it favorable to its island client.
In addition, two of Abramoff's lobbying colleagues on the Marianas won political appointments inside federal agencies.
"Our standing with the new administration promises to be solid as several friends of the CNMI (islands) will soon be taking high-ranking positions in the Administration, including within the Interior Department," Abramoff wrote in a January 2001 letter in which he persuaded the island government to follow him as a client to his new lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig.
The reception Abramoff's team received from the Bush administration was in stark contrast to the chilly relations of the Clinton years. Abramoff, then at the Preston Gates firm, scored few meetings with Clinton aides and the lobbyist and the islands vehemently opposed White House attempts to extend U.S. labor laws to the territory's clothing factories.
The records from Abramoff's firm, obtained by The Associated Press from the Marianas under an open records request, chronicle Abramoff's careful cultivation of relations with Bush's political team as far back as 1997.
In that year, Abramoff charged the Marianas for getting then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush to write a letter expressing support for the Pacific territory's school choice proposal, his billing records show.
Amid DeLay furor, new ethics bill pushes for stricter reporting
By Michael Tackett
Tribune senior correspondent
Published May 5, 2005
WASHINGTON -- With several members of Congress, and most notably House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, ensnared in an ethics controversy over their relationships with lobbyists, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) on Wednesday introduced legislation to require much stricter reporting and disclosure requirements.
"This is an institutional problem," Emanuel said. "This is a cloud that hangs over the institution of the Congress. I think we ought to clean it up."
So far, he has found support only among Democrats, many of whom have been sharply critical of DeLay (R-Texas). And for his part, DeLay was dismissive of the proposed legislation, saying, "I'm not interested in the water that they are carrying for some of these leftist groups."
When told that Emanuel and co-sponsor Martin Meehan (D-Mass.), were looking for bipartisan support, DeLay responded derisively, "I bet they are."
The call to revamp lobbying laws comes against the backdrop of several inquiries into the actions of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, many of which focus on his relationship to DeLay and whether Abramoff might have improperly paid for travel for the House majority leader on foreign trips.
Later Wednesday, the evenly divided House ethics committee formally adopted investigative rules, allowing itself to initiate investigations and receive complaints of member misconduct. And two GOP members of the panel, Reps. Lamar Smith of Texas and Tom Cole of Oklahoma, agreed to withdraw from any investigation of DeLay because they contributed to the majority leader's legal defense funds.
DeLay has consistently denied any wrongdoing and said in a weekly session with reporters that he welcomes the opportunity to have his side of the case heard by the ethics committee.
The Texas Republican said that many lawmakers are baffled by the current ethics rules and often are at a loss to know what is within the rules.
He said that lawyers have been preparing documents for him to turn over to the committee, but he added that he did not plan to publicly release those documents.
He said he was "absolutely" confident that he would be vindicated by any investigation. "We did everything by the book," DeLay said.
That is not how Emanuel sees it. Indeed, the legislation he proposes with Meehan seems tailored almost precisely to the set of issues that the DeLay controversy presents.
The legislation would require quarterly filings by lobbyists instead of semiannual filings, and those records would be accessible electronically to the public in a searchable database. It would cross-reference lobbyist filings with campaign finance disclosures for federal candidates.
The bill also would require lobbyists to report all past government employment and would double the one-year waiting period before a member of Congress or senior staff could directly lobby Congress.
To prevent potential travel abuses, the legislation would require organizations sponsoring travel for a member or staff to attest that the trip was not at the request of a lobbyist or foreign agent.
It also would require that the organization did not accept money earmarked to pay for the trip from another source.
Congress last passed major lobbying reform legislation 10 years ago.
A PAC erects signs questioning majority leader's overseas golf trek
By MATT STILES
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
Think the sniping over U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's ethics might fade away anytime soon?
Read the signs.
A left-leaning political action committee brought the simmering D.C. Beltway battle to the U.S. House majority leader's home turf this week, posting two billboards criticizing him near area roadways.
The signs, erected south of downtown Houston and in La Marque, read: "Lobbyists sent Tom DeLay golfing; all you got was this billboard."
With a photograph of a putting golfer, the signs reference questions that have dogged the Sugar Land Republican for weeks about whether he improperly took overseas trips paid for by lobbyists.
"It's important for us to expose Tom DeLay's ethical lapses," said Noreen Nielsen, communications director for Democracy for America, which paid for the ads. "It's a fun way to get the message out." The group also ran radio ads last year in support of DeLay's Democratic challenger, Sugar Land lawyer Richard Morrison.
Activists rally Tuesday at the unveiling of a billboard near downtown about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay-R, Sugar Land.
Dismissed as a stunt
DeLay's supporters dismiss the effort as a political stunt by a group that Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean founded. They say the ads won't hurt a politician who enjoys broad support in his 22nd Congressional District, which includes parts of Harris, Brazoria, Galveston and Fort Bend counties.
"This is northeastern liberal Democrats trying to come in and have an influence," said Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill. "He's effective in defeating the liberal agenda. If he wasn't having success, he wouldn't be attacked."
DeLay has denied that he broke House rules when he took a trip to Great Britain that included golf at St. Andrews in Scotland. His supporters have said a nonprofit conservative group, the National Center for Public Policy Research, paid for the trip. But media investigations have found that some of DeLay's expenses were charged to a lobbyist's credit card.
The possibility that ethical questions might make DeLay politically vulnerable are whetting the appetites of potential Democratic challengers to the 11-term congressman, even though the district has a strong Republican voting history likely to make DeLay the favorite no matter who his opponent is.
Houston City Council member Gordon Quan announced Tuesday that he's taking formal steps toward seeking the 2006 Democratic nomination. Former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson of Beaumont plans to file formally today.
"The message, basically, is not just about Tom DeLay, but general dissatisfaction with corruption in politics," said Leah Burris, a leader in Democracy for Houston, an arm of the national group that helped plan the billboards.
Others don't see it that way.
"This is silly. This is a pathetic joke," said Chris Stevens, who chairs the Republican Party in Galveston County, where another billboard went up Monday. "Who cares? He went golfing."
Searching for a slogan
The billboard's slogan evolved after the group urged visitors on its Web site to submit ideas. The group, which says it supports fiscally responsible, socially progressive candidates at all levels of government, got more than 20,000 submissions, Nielson said.
Nielsen, who wouldn't reveal the billboards' cost, said they would remain for a month.
DeLay investigation triggering 'ethics war'
By Gail Russell Chaddock, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Tue May 3, 4:00 AM ET
A timely photo op with President Bush and a tribute at the Capitol Hilton next week signal how seriously official Washington is taking the next round of ethics investigations around embattled House leader Tom DeLay.
It's an investigation that the House majority leader says he welcomes, to clear his name. But it's also threatening to engulf other members of Congress, as opposition researchers for both parties plunge into member disclosure forms in search of lapses. The looming ethics war could write a new chapter in an long-running story of money, power, and boundary lines in Washington.
Congress has come a long way from the days when Sen. Daniel Webster penned an 1833 letter reminding banking interests that his "annual retainer" was due and important banking legislation was coming up in the US Senate. Today, he'd be swiftly expelled and prosecuted.
But even as standards have risen, so has the volume of dollars flowing through the capital. At the root of the DeLay investigation: How many degrees of separation are appropriate between lobbyist cash and politicians? The search for answers could tarnish both parties.
"We're in an ethics war that's the congressional
equivalent of mutually assured destruction," says Mike Franc, vice president for government relations at the Heritage Foundation. "There will be a retaliation of equal or greater force."
After months of deadlock - and a repeal of GOP-drafted ethics rule muscled through the House at the start of the new Congress - the House ethics panel is expected to organize this week. At the top of its agenda is the swirl of allegations around DeLay.
If confirmed, the charges that lobbyists paid for DeLay's travel to Russia, London, Scotland, and South Korea would be a violation of House rules. He also faces a deferred ethics complaint over alleged illegal corporate contributions to a group in Texas that he helped found.
The first signs of retaliation surfaced last week, as freshmen Reps. Patrick McHenry (R) of North Carolina and Lynn Westmoreland (R) of Georgia chastised minority whip Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland for failing to file required 30-day travel disclosure forms over a number of years. Democrats call these procedural or technical corrections.
Last week, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi filed a late report for an aide whose trip to South Korea was financed by a group that had registered as a foreign agent, which appears to violate House rules. Current House rules do not forbid members from accepting privately financed travel. But lawmakers are required to "make inquiry about the source of the funds" for the trip.
According to public disclosure forms, DeLay took 14 trips paid for by private interests worth just over $94,000 since 2000, but 27 lawmakers took trips from private groups that were valued more. Since 2000, members of Congress have taken more than $16 million in privately financed trips, according to an analysis by PoliticalMoneyLine, an online public interest research group.
"A lot of folks don't understand the rules and regulations relative to travel," says James Albertine, president of Albertine Enterprises and a longtime lobbyist. "Most lobbyists want to be ethical, but we live in a very complex town. The ability to get time with members has become a very important part of the profession."
Last week, The Washington Post reported that expenses for a privately funded golfing trip to Scotland in 2000 were covered by a credit card in the name of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is currently under investigation by a Senate committee and the Justice Department over some $80 million in fees for work on behalf of Indian gambling interests on Capitol Hill.
Public interest groups say such travel payments would violate House rules. "The rules are clear: A lobbyist can't advance funds for travel," says Larry Noble of the Center for Responsive Politics.
Even so, the lobbyist provision is a fig leaf, critics say. "The lobbyist can't pay for the trip, and a lobbying firm can't pay for the trip, but the client can," says Mr. Noble. That client is a nonprofit group, which may have ties to industry. "So, the lobbyist still gets the benefit of going along with the member."
But lobbyists and some members of Congress say there is ambiguity in how the rules are interpreted. Paul Miller, president of the American League of Lobbyists, says it's not unusual for lobbyists to help set up or arrange a trip. "I don't see that that's an issue. But the money has to come from a nonprofit. The lobbyist is acting as nothing more than a conduit for helping arrange that travel." As to whether a lobbyist can cover expenses for members of Congress with a credit card and be reimbursed by clients at a later date, he says: "That's to be discussed."
As the DeLay travel flap heated up, members are already wary about future privately sponsored travel. The conservative Heritage Foundation finds members reluctant to sign up for its annual summer policy wonker on social security.
"DeLay's ethics woes will have a chilling effect on congressional travel," says Rep. Harold Ford (news, bio, voting record) (D) of Tennessee, who ranks No. 2 in the number of trips paid for by private groups. Travel often helps members understand the issues, he says.
Meanwhile, House Democrats Rahm Emanuel of Illinois and Marty Meehan of Massachusetts are developing a proposal to require lobbyists to disclose ties with nonprofit groups and the way private groups pay for travel. The bill would also double the time members and staff will have to wait after leaving Congress before becoming lobbyists to former colleagues.
At issue in the next round of ethics wars - and the reforms that follow - is how to break the appearance that Washington runs on a pay-to-play basis. After taking back the House in 1995, Republicans increased lobbyist disclosure requirements as well as restrictions on gifts they could give to lawmakers. It's these disclosure requirements that are providing grist for the next rounds in an ethics war.
"Power, if it doesn't corrupt, makes people numb to appearances. It happens over and over again," says Brooks Jackson, whose 1988 book "Honest Graft" helped define the last ethics war.