Thomas D. DeLay/Commentary

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Tom DeLay

Thomas D. "Tom" DeLay (R-Texas), who served as Majority Leader in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2002, and political associates Jim Ellis and John Colyandro were first indicted September 28, 2005, by the Travis County, Texas, Grand Jury, all three charged with "conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme." DeLay was forced to step down and "temporarily relinquish his post." [1]

DeLay accused the prosecutor, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, of being a "partisan fanatic", despite the fact that 11 of Earle's 15 investigations or indictments of elected officials since his own election in 1976 have targeted Democrats. [2][3]

DeLay Quitting Congress
On April 3, 2006, DeLay, "whose iron hold on the House Republicans melted as a lobbying corruption scandal engulfed the Capitol, told TIME that he will not seek reelection and will leave Congress within months. Taking defiant swipes at 'the left' and the press, he said he feels 'liberated' and vowed to pursue an aggressive speaking and organizing campaign aimed at promoting foster care, Republican candidates and a closer connection between religion and government." [4]

Rudy Guilty Plea
Tony Rudy, DeLay's former chief of staff, appeared in federal court in Washington, D.C. March 31, 2006, and pled guilty to conspiracy "in a case stemming from the corruption probe of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, bringing the scandal closer to the door of his one-time boss, Representative Tom DeLay," Bloomberg News reported.

Rudy "promised to cooperate with a federal investigation of bribery and lobbying fraud that has so far netted three convictions and prompted calls for ethics reform in Congress," the Associated Press reported.

"The plea agreement contains no allegations that DeLay, who it describes as Representative 2, did anything wrong," the AP said.

More Suppoenas ... the "Duke"
Seeking "records surrounding donations to the former Republican leader and disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham," Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle "issued a second round of subpoenas to businessmen," in particular to "zero in on transactions in 2002 involving PerfectWave Technologies LLC, a company controlled by Brent Wilkes, a businessman with ties to DeLay and Cunningham." [5]

DeLay Stepped Aside
On January 7, 2006, DeLay announced "his intention not to seek reinstatement as House Majority Leader," saying his three years as Majority Leader "has been a great honor, but the job of Majority Leader is too important to be hamstrung by personal distractions." DeLay called upon House Speaker Dennis Hastert to "convene the House Republican Conference as soon as possible for the purpose of electing a new majority leader."

Earle Broadens Scope
Prosecutor Ronnie Earle "broadened the scope of his inquiry into election spending" on January 5, 2006, "demanding documents related to funds that passed through a nonprofit organization," the U.S. Family Network, Inc., "founded in 1996 by DeLay's then-chief of staff," Ed Buckham," which "received $500,000 in 1999 from the National Republican Congressional Committee and used some of the money to finance radio ads attacking Democrats," R. Jeffrey Smith reported in the Washington Post.

"From Russia With Love"
"Two former associates" of DeLay's former chief of staff and organizer of U.S. Family Network, Inc., Ed Buckham, said Buckham told them Russian oil and gas executives "Marina Nevskaya and Alexander Koulakovsky of the oil firm Naftasib" contributed $1 million in 1998 "specifically to influence DeLay's vote on legislation the International Monetary Fund needed to finance a bailout of the collapsing Russian economy." Jack Abramoff "had been working closely with two such Russian energy executives on their Washington agenda, and the lobbyist [Abramoff] and Buckham had helped organize a 1997 Moscow visit by DeLay." --R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, December 31, 2005.

Erroneous "Appeal" Report
"Media reports that U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay had convinced the state's highest court to hear his appeal were as widely circulated as they were, well, wrong," Lisa Sandberg of the Express-News Austin Bureau reported December 28, 2005. "Justices for the Texas Court Criminal Appeals agreed merely to consider hearing DeLay's money laundering case. They never said they would accept the case, said Edward Marty, the court's general counsel."

Investigation Widens: DA Issued Subpoenas
"District Attorney Ronnie Earle issued subpoenas late Monday afternoon [December 12, 2005,] for California businessmen Brent Wilkes and Max Gelwix, records of Perfect Wave Technologies LLC, Wilkes Corp. and ADCS Inc. in connection with a contribution to a fundraising committee at the center of the investigation that led to DeLay's indictment on money laundering charges," the Associated Press's Suzanne Gamboa reported.

Conspiracy Charge Out, Money-Laundering In
On Monday, December 5, 2005, Texas Judge Pat Priest, presiding over the case against DeLay, "dismissed a conspiracy charge" but "refused to throw out the far more serious allegations of money-laundering, dashing the congressman's hopes for now of reclaiming his post as House majority leader," the Associated Press's April Castro reported. "The ruling means the case will move toward a trial next year, though other defense objections to the indictments remain to be heard by the judge."

DeLay's Interim Replacement?
Representative Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), who had been "unanimously elected" by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives in an "interim arrangement for the rest of the year" when DeLay was first indicted on September 28, 2005, said December 6, 2005, that "he would not stand in the way of elections for a new majority leader early next year if Rep. Tom DeLay's legal troubles were still brewing then."

"Of course one way to give The Hammer a bit more time," Josh Marshall wrote December 7, 2005, "is just not let the members of the House come back." And, Marshall wrote, "that appears what they've decided to do."

Marshall wrote that Roll Call reported that House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Blunt "plan to keep the doors to the peoples' House closed until January 31st, the day the President is scheduled to give his State of the Union address -- which of course is given in the House chamber."

Threat of Federal Charges Grows
Following the November 21, 2005, plea agreement on federal conspiracy charges by Michael Scanlon -- former aide to DeLay and partner to DeLay associate Jack Abramoff -- the likelihood of "federal charges against members of Congress intensified" when Scanlon "agreed to co-operate with investigators." [6]

The Wall Street Journal reported November 25, 2005, that the Justice Department's "investigation into possible influence-peddling by prominent Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff is examining his dealings with four lawmakers, more than a dozen current and former congressional aides and two former Bush administration officials, lawyers and others involved in the case. ... [Namely] House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, Rep. Bob Ney (R., Ohio), Rep. John Doolittle (R., Calif.) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R., Mont.), according to several people close to the investigation. ... Five of the former aides worked for Mr. DeLay, including" Tony Rudy, Ed Buckham and Susan B. Hirschmann. "The three were top aides to Mr. DeLay and are now Washington lobbyists." [7]

Mad Money Magnet
DeLay "received free travel valued at $13,998.55 from Fox News Sunday for 'officially connected travel' on October 1-2, 2005, from Sugarland, TX to Washington, D.C. and back to Sugarland, TX. Rep. DeLay appeared on Fox News Sunday on October 2, 2005, the weekend after his indictment on September 28, 2005," Taegan Goddard's Political Wire reported November 3, 2005.

Republican National Committee: Wash-Spin-Dry
"If you look closely at the latest DeLay indictments, it becomes very clear that the RNC is smack dab in the middle of Tom DeLay's problems. Think about it for a second: they were the money laundering machine!" --Ellen Miller, TPM Cafe, October 3, 2005. (emphasis added)

DeLay "met for at least 30 minutes" with Jim Ellis, "the top fundraiser of his Texas political action committee on Oct. 2, 2002, the same day that the Republican National Committee in Washington set in motion a series of financial transactions at the heart of the money-laundering and conspiracy case against DeLay," R. Jeffrey Smith reported in the October 7, 2005, Washington Post.

Political Money Carousel
Long-time political allies DeLay and Roy Blunt, "the deputy who succeeded him as House majority leader, orchestrated a political money carousel in 2000 that diverted donations secretly collected for presidential convention parties to some of their own pet causes.

"When it all ended, DeLay's private charity, along with the consulting firm that employed DeLay's wife and the Missouri campaign of Blunt's son, Matt, who now is the state's governor, all ended up with a piece of the pie, according to campaign documents reviewed by The Associated Press." [8]

"Jack Abramoff, the Washington lobbyist recently charged in an ongoing federal corruption and fraud investigation, and Jim Ellis, the DeLay fundraiser indicted with his boss last week in Texas, also appeared in the picture." [9]

"DeLay has received perks from Abramoff for years, including an 'education and golfing' trip to Korea, funded by a registered foreign agent, which is a violation of House rules. ("The money was funneled through a Washington tax-exempt group and the trip arranged" by Abramoff.)" [10]

Also involved in the transactions is the Alexander Strategy Group, the "political consulting firm formed by DeLay's former chief of staff, Ed Buckham." [11]

"None of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations DeLay collected for the 2000 convention were ever disclosed to federal regulators because the type of group DeLay used wasn't governed by federal law at the time." [12]

"Shameless Genius"
"Defenders of politicians under attack typically say, no matter what the abuse is: 'But everybody does it.' That excuse does not work here. DeLay, who was forced to step down as House majority leader, was a pioneer in something entirely new: a fully integrated political apparatus that linked Republican Party committees, lobbyists, fundraisers, corporations, ideological organizations and the process of governing itself.

"There was a candid shamelessness, even genius, about how the operation worked." --E.J. Dionne, opinion, September 30, 2005.

DeLay is "an ethical recidivist -- unabashed about using his legislative and political power to reward supporters and punish opponents, and brazen in how he links campaign contributions and political actions." --Washington Post editorial, September 29, 2005.

"But the simple truth is that Tom DeLay is not simply a majority leader who happens also to be corrupt. His corrupt practices are central — indeed, inextricably tied — to the way he’s run and built up the House Republican caucus over the last decade." --Josh Marshall, The Hill, April 14, 2005.

DeLay's Denials
"This morning, in an act of blatant political partisanship, a rogue district attorney in Travis County, Texas, named Ronnie Earle charged me with one count of criminal conspiracy, a reckless charge wholly unsupported by the facts." --DeLay, September 28, 2005.

"Tom DeLay wants you to believe he was completely in the dark about TRMPAC’s activities." DeLay said September 28, 2005, on Hardball:

"That’s TRMPAC. That’s not me…I was simply, along with four other elected officials, on an advisory board. They used my name as headliners for fundraisers and I had no idea what they were doing."

"'Ronnie Earle has stooped to a new low with his brand of prosecutorial abuse,' DeLay said in a statement. 'He is trying to pull the legal equivalent of a 'do-over' since he knows very well that the charges he brought against me last week are totally manufactured and illegitimate. This is an abomination of justice'," DeLay said October 3, 2005.

Demonizing the Opposition
Desperate times require desperate measures, so, when all else fails, DeLay resorts to demonizing the opposition -- to make a buck or two. "Delay is trying to turn his legal woes into a financial boon for his re-election. The former House majority leader is using his congressional campaign to distribute to voters derogatory information about the prosecutor who brought the charges against him and to solicit donations for his re-election," of course. --Associated Press, October 15, 2005.

DeLay Behind the Curtain
"DeLay should simply have resigned as majority leader, as Republican rules require and as others have done in this position. Instead, the House speaker, Dennis Hastert, called the move temporary, did not actually replace him and made it obvious to everyone that Mr. DeLay would run the show from the wings." --New York Times editorial, September 29, 2005.


Complaints, Investigation & Indictments

Ongoing Coverage

Overview: Misconduct in Texas Fundraising

Following the ruling, David Donnelly, National Campaign Director of the watchdog group Public Campaign Action Fund, released the following statement: [13]

"'In a court of law DeLay’s TRMPAC was found to have concealed from the public record more than half a million dollars in corporate campaign donations, in violation of state law.
"'This decision, with an impartial judge and all the evidence laid out, further underscores the need for the House Ethics Committee to appoint an outside counsel. The public will not trust Tom DeLay’s cronies in Congress to do what Judge [Joseph H.] Hart did today; specifically, he ruled on the facts, not the politics, of the case."
  • Read the May 26, 2005, ruling in either pdf or html format.

Reuters' Mark Babineck reported May 26, 2005, that the Texas ruling has caused new ethics questions "swirling" around DeLay, after Judge Hart awarded $196,660 in damages to "five Democratic candidates defeated in 2002 by Republicans who received money from Texans for a Republican Majority." [14]

Babineck also reported that:

  • "DeLay has been under investigation by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle in Austin for his part in the committee's activities.
  • "DeLay has not been charged, but three men with close ties to DeLay have been indicted for illegal fund-raising activities by the committee.
  • "Eight corporations also were indicted for making illegal contributions to the committee."

On August 11, 2005, a federal audit of a political fundraising committee founded by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay found that it failed to report more than $300,000 in debts owed to vendors and incorrectly paid for some committee activities with money from another DeLay-connected political committee.

The Federal Election Commission found that 'Americans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee' (ARMPAC) misreported receipts and the ending cash balance for 2001 activities and the beginning cash-on-hand, receipts, disbursements and ending cash-on-hand for 2002. ARMPAC also failed to report $322,306 owed to 25 vendors. ARMPAC disclosed the debts in amended reports, the FEC said.

ARMPAC's state, non-federal arm paid some expenses and costs for events and activities that should have been paid by ARMPAC, the report said. ARMPAC representatives are reviewing that portion of the audit and understand "a payment from the federal account to the non-federal account may be required," the FEC said.

There were no details given to indicate if the Federal Election Commission would pursue enforcement action.

DeLay and Jack Abramoff

Abramoff-Reed Indian Gambling Scandal

Tom DeLay is implicated as the recipient of numerous gifts and other favors from indicted Washington Lobyist Jack Abramoff, whom he once characterized as "one of his closest and dearest friends." Abramoff and his wife have personally contributed $40,000 to DeLay and his PAC. Abramoff also arranged multiple overseas expense-paid trips for DeLay and his top staffers to Russia, Saipan and Britain over the years. Funding for these trips has been closely tied to Indian gaming tribes, Russian business tycoons and overseas sweatshop operators. [15]

The Associated Press reported on April 7, 2005, "DeLay's political action committee did not reimburse lobbyist Jack Abramoff for the May 2000 use of the skybox, instead treating it as a type of donation that didn't have to be disclosed to election regulators at the time.

The skybox donation, valued at thousands of dollars, came just three weeks before DeLay accepted a trip to Europe including golf with Abramoff at the world-famous St. Andrews course for himself, his wife and aides that was underwritten by some of the lobbyist's clients.

Two months after the concert and trip, DeLay voted against gambling legislation opposed by some of Abramoff's Indian tribe clients." [16]

The DeLay "War Room"

In April 2005, DeLay "assembled a 'formal structure' to counter news stories about his perceived ethical improprieties and ensure the support of Republican lawmakers, GOP sources" Jonathan E. Kaplan and Patrick O'Connor wrote in The Hill.[1]

The team, which included DeLay's Chief of Staff Tim Berry, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Flynn, Communications Director Dan Allen, general counsel Elliot Berkes and policy adviser Brett Shogren, met daily, holding "a 7:30 a.m. conference call with aides from the [House] Speaker [Dennis Hastert]’s office, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the Republican National Committee (RNC) to discuss daily media coverage of DeLay. His aides then [held] their own meeting in DeLay’s first-floor Capitol office to discuss message strategy for the day." If needed, the group would "meet as needed throughout the day informally as stories" broke or new developments occurred.

"The Washington Post," Kaplan and O'Connor wrote,[1] "first reported the early-morning phone call, which is paid for by the NRCC and includes DeLay’s allies on K Street and in the conservative movement, as well as Sam Dawson, a longtime political consultant to the NRCC."

Investigation: Fox in the Henhouse

U.S. Representative Melissa Hart (R-PA) "has been tapped to head any review by the House Ethics Committee of DeLay. The committee has five Democrats and five Republicans," according to J.D. Prose, writing in the May 8, 2005, edition of the Beaver County Times.

At the May 6, 2005, "Beaver County Chamber of Commerce breakfast," Prose wrote that, in her opening remarks, Hart "referred to the 'media, sort of, hyping of the ethics issue' that has dogged House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas."

Prose reported "Hart has also had her ethics questioned by Democratic groups that have said she should not oversee any investigation because she accepted $15,000 from DeLay's political action committee and had a fund-raiser at a Washington, D.C., restaurant owned by Abramoff.

"Hart has said the donation from a House leader is not unusual." Hart added that "Abramoff's restaurant, which was paid $1,600, was chosen simply because it was a good location. The event, Hart said, was handled ethically and legally." [17]

"DeLay is so addicted to corporate money that he is now accepting it to fight the charges that he laundered it. The man lacks any sense of decency or, apparently, irony." --Conor Kenny, researcher for Public Citizen, Texas Observer, November 18, 2005.

Resources

Related SourceWatch articles

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 "DeLay team builds a new war room," The Hill April 15, 2005.

External articles