By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
This wasn’t Texas Republican swagger. I was sitting in the office of a veteran public-interest lobbyist who had been here since the ’60s, when he arrived with a young reformer named Ralph Nader. Rove, Bush and DeLay, he argued, seemed to control every important political decision.
That was nine months ago, as I began reporting on a book on one of the three Texans: Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the former exterminator from Sugar Land, Texas, recognized as the most powerful member of the U.S. House.
At the time, DeLay and Rove had bullied Texas Governor Rick Perry into a third special session to redraw the state’s congressional districts. With DeLay presiding over the map work and Rove keeping the governor in line, they would add five to seven Republican members to the Texas House delegation.
Bush was watching his approval ratings begin to climb back into the high 50s after yet another 9/11 speech, this one on Labor Day, repeating his resolve to make the world safe from terrorism.
Even Hollywood — or at least a small corner of it — was giving itself over to Texas. In the Showtime production DC 9/11: A Time of Crisis, writer/producer Lionel Chetwynd had his nose so close to the president’s ass that he broke the Texas sodomy statute. “If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come over and get me,” roars Timothy Bottoms, who portrayed Bush in the film. “This is a man who feels deeply,” the Rove character says of his boss.
Bush was winning the war on terror and the war in Iraq. Rove was joking about the prospect of running against Howard Dean. And DeLay was redrawing the political map of Texas. The three Texans were at the top of their game.
It’s been a difficult nine months.
Since then, Bush’s poll numbers have been in steady decline. Rove’s genius is being questioned. And the majority leader — the party’s go-to guy for Christian-right voter turnout — might be counting votes on a jury before he and his president stand for re-election in November.
DeLay’s elaborate scheme to pour enough money into the 2002 elections to capture the Texas state House and select a speaker who would follow his orders on redistricting has come back to haunt him. Three civil suits and one criminal investigation in Austin suggest the majority leader who regularly delivers the president’s House votes by the narrowest of margins is in real trouble. DeLay’s daughter, Danielle Ferro, and two of his closest aides, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis, were subpoenaed after it was revealed that a political action committee DeLay and Ellis set up poured $1.5 million into 20 Texas House races two years ago. The money helped elect 17 new Republican state reps and put the party in control of the House for the first time since Reconstruction. This is the Great State, where the big sky and your checkbook balance are the only limits on campaign financing. But the Republican PACsters made one fatal mistake. Of the $1.5 million, $600,000 was money donated by corporations. Spending corporate cash is one of very few things actually prohibited by Texas campaign-finance law.
Texans for Public Justice (TPJ), an Austin-based public-interest research firm, compared fund-raising statements DeLay’s PAC filed in Texas with those it filed with the IRS. TPJ found $600,000 in corporate money that was never put on the books in Texas. The group’s director (who also learned his trade working for Nader) sent a complaint to the D.A. in Austin, who is charged with prosecuting political corruption. Since the complaint was filed, DeLay & Co. have provided journalists and criminal investigators the day-to-day scandal reports missing in Texas since Enron collapsed, filed bankruptcy, and sold the big tilted E that sat on the sidewalk in front of its sleek corporate office tower in Houston.
One week’s news reports have the PAC’s director sending $190,000 in corporate (soft) money to the Republican National Committee in Washington and two weeks later receiving $190,000 in hard dollars legal to spend in Texas. Then DeLay’s handpicked speaker is caught handing Republican House candidates $152,000 from the Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, a down-home version of his national Americans for a Republican Majority. Then Roll Call, an unimpeachable source of insider Capitol news, reports that DeLay was quietly telling Republican House colleagues he might have to step aside if he’s indicted. And The Houston Chronicle’s equally unimpeachable R.G. Ratcliffe reports DeLay discussed his legal-defense fund at a closed meeting with Houston supporters.
“First of all, all reports are wrong. The reports in Washington are particularly wrong,” DeLay said of both stories at his March 30 press conference.
Texans for Public Justice, which is turning out to be a chronic ass pain for DeLay and the White House, reported that one quarter million of the $1.5 million DeLay’s PAC spent in Texas was donated by Bush “Rangers” and “Pioneers.” That is, the two groups of Bush money bundlers pledged to raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the presidential campaign. And Terry Nelson, the political director and fund-raiser for the Bush-Cheney campaign, also testified before the Austin grand jury looking into DeLay’s Texas PAC.