|Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore|
Florida GOP won't return money tied to DeLay fundraising
Eleven House Republicans from Florida who received cash from Tom DeLay's PAC said they will keep it.
BY FRANK DAVIES
Florida Republicans in the U.S. House steadfastly support Tom DeLay, their indicted leader, and have decided not to return substantial contributions they received from DeLay's political action committee.
While at least three Republicans from other states have returned such contributions or donated the money to hurricane relief, Reps. Clay Shaw of Fort Lauderdale, who received $30,000, Katherine Harris of Sarasota ($20,000) and nine other Florida Republicans say there is no reason to do that.
''Last time I checked, you're innocent until proven guilty,'' said Harris, who is running for the U.S. Senate. She labeled several calls to return money from DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC) as ``nothing but political grandstanding.''
Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart of Miami, who received $10,000 from ARMPAC, said he would return the money only if DeLay is convicted. And like many other Republicans, he blamed Delay's legal troubles on an ''out-of-control prosecutor,'' Ronnie Earle, who he said craves publicity and is out to get DeLay.
''He's the Paris Hilton of prosecutors -- and that's probably an insult to Paris Hilton,'' Díaz-Balart said.
DONATIONS TO DELAY
Díaz-Balart, Shaw and five other Florida Republicans also contributed to DeLay's legal defense fund.
Harris, Shaw and several other state Republicans said they had no problem with Delay continuing to play a prominent role as a House leader, even though he stepped down as majority leader when he was indicted Sept. 28 in Texas.
DeLay faces charges of conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws and, in a second indictment, money laundering.
The League of Conservation Voters urged Republicans to return ARMPAC money, focusing on Shaw, Harris and others who received large contributions and voted for what the group called an antienvironmental energy bill favored by DeLay.
''While this latest ethical cloud hangs over Congressman DeLay, the decent thing for them to do is return the money until this issue is resolved,'' said Deb Callahan, president of the League.
Three House Republicans are returning ARMPAC contributions: Jeb Bradley of New Hampshire ($15,000), Heather Wilson of New Mexico ($10,000) and Kenny Hulshof of Missouri, who said he would donate the $14,500 received from ARMPAC to Hurricane Katrina relief.
''The congresswoman just thought it was the right thing to do -- it was a black and white thing,'' said Jane Altweis, a spokesperson for Wilson.
And not all Republicans are comfortable with the active role DeLay continues to play in the House even though he officially stepped aside, at least temporarily, for Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., told The Hill newspaper that there's ''nervousness and anxiety'' among Republicans about the arrangement, and noted that former Republican leaders Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston, and Democrat Jim Wright stepped aside for the good of their parties when ethical questions arose.
James Thurber, who directs the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, said that as the 2006 congressional election gets closer, ``DeLay could be radioactive.''
''There's a danger in getting too close to DeLay and DeLay's money, but it's too early to know how much danger there is,'' he said.
Thurber said that DeLay had established ''a very effective money machine,'' attracting a steady flow of corporate and lobbyists' donations and then dispensing money to House candidates in competitive races.
Both parties do that through leadership political action committees, but ARMPAC set the standard, dispensing $4.2 million since 1994 to GOP candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks contributions.
Shaw and other Republicans point out that ARMPAC is not part of the two indictments against DeLay, which focus on another political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority. And they complain that Democrats and MoveOn.org, a liberal activist group urging members to pressure Republicans on the issue, are just playing politics.
''These groups are trying to link [the indictments] to the other PAC, and they're not related,'' said Shaw, who praised Delay's leadership.
Rep. Tom Feeney, a Republican from Central Florida, said ``the call to return the money is simply an organized effort by partisan advocacy groups hoping to maximize the impact of a politically driven attack.''
Díaz-Balart noted that MoveOn.org has received financial support from a ''convicted felon,'' George Soros, convicted of insider trading in France.
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