|Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore|
King of the Hill Tom DeLay lived like one, too
Larry Margasak and Sharon Theimer, Associated Press
December 21, 2005
As Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, became a king of campaign fundraising, he lived like one too.
Over the past six years, the former House majority leader and his associates have visited places of luxury most Americans have never seen, often transported by corporate jets arranged by lobbyists and other special interests.
Public documents reviewed by the Associated Press tell the story: at least 48 visits to golf clubs and resorts; 100 flights aboard company planes; 200 hotel stays; 500 restaurant meals, some averaging nearly $200 for a dinner for two.
The meals and trips for DeLay and his associates were paid with donations collected by the campaign committees, political action committees and children's charity he created during his rise to the congressional leadership. His lawyer says the expenses are simply part of DeLay's effort to raise money from Republicans and to spread the GOP message.
Since he became majority whip in 1995, DeLay has raised at least $35 million for his campaign, PACs, foundation and legal defense fund. He hasn't faced a serious reelection threat in recent years, giving him more leeway than candidates in close races to spend campaign money.
The AP's review found that DeLay's various organizations spent at least $1 million over the past six years on hotels, restaurants, golf resorts and corporate jet flights for their boss and his associates.
While it's illegal for a member of Congress to tap political donations for a family vacation, it is legal if the stated purpose is raising more money or talking politics.
Until his recent indictment in Texas on political money laundering charges, DeLay was the second most powerful member in the House and as such, could command an audience of donors wherever he went.
DeLay attorney Don McGahn declined to identify which trips listed in the reports were taken by DeLay and which by his associates. But he said all the travel was legal and not done for DeLay's benefit. "Raising political money costs money," he said.
Special interests routinely make donations and attend fundraisers to gain access to government decisionmakers. And while other congressional leaders accepted trips and used political money to cover travel, none compares with DeLay:
• Campaign and PAC reports filed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., show several payments to companies for travel but there were few visits to golf courses, and those were mostly close to home.
• Reports from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., show expenses at resorts in South Carolina, New Mexico and Puerto Rico. But he too holds most events closer to home, like Las Vegas casinos and Lake Tahoe resorts.
• House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has held events at ritzy hotels but had few corporate flights or visits to resorts, her reports show.
• House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., comes closest to rivaling DeLay's travels, reporting fundraisers at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts in Florida, the Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua, Hawaii, the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the Waterfall Resort in Alaska. His groups also paid for dozens of corporate jet flights and restaurant meals.
Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., a Republican author of legislation designed to overhaul campaign financing, said of DeLay's record, "It's excessive, it's obscene, it distorts someone's ability to have good judgment.
A longtime DeLay critic, he added, "It's an abuse of campaign finance law and of our ethics law. It's harmful to Congress in general and the Republican Party in particular."
DeLay's travels with indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff are now under criminal investigation. But those trips were paid by special interests directly under the banner of congressional fact-finding.
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