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
“HE’S NOT SAID HE’S going to stop raising money for anybody.”
Okay, it’s a tough sentence to parse. But Susan Hirschmann meant it when she said it in 1999, referring to the settlement of a racketeering suit House Democrats filed against her boss. Tom DeLay can’t stop. No one raises money like the majority leader, who brings in $12,000 a day when he’s at the top of his game.
Lately he’s been off his game. Way off. Early this month Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers raised $160,000 for DeLay’s legal-defense fund. Rogers is running for chair of House Appropriations and needs DeLay’s help. DeLay needs the money. And more, if you care to send in a check. The House Ethics Committee has just handed DeLay two reprimands within one week. Three fund-raisers working for a political-action committee he set up in Texas have been indicted and face long stretches at the Big Rodeo — one as long as 99 years. DeLay’s former press secretary and one of his closest advisers are being investigated by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee for a scandal involving the
$66 million they billed (or bilked) six Indian tribes for lobbying and PR work. A federal grand jury in Washington is looking into the same billing (more than General Electric and the pharmaceutical companies paid for lobbyists during the same time.) Sometime this month, DeLay’s daughter Danni Ferro will be subpoenaed by lawyers representing former Texas legislators who claim DeLay’s Texas PAC illegally raised the money that defeated them in 2002. It’s been a tough autumn for the majority leader. Winter will be even worse.
The story of the criminal indictments in Texas only makes sense if the back story is explained. For 10 years the Republican Party had been trying to capture the Texas House. Party operatives aimed for 2000 so the House, the Senate and the state’s Republican governor could have absolute control of redrawing the state’s congressional district lines when the Legislature met after the 2000 census. Despite years of spending record sums on campaigns, in 2000 they fell short. And the Democratic House speaker refused to go along with the governor and Senate’s effort to reconfigure the state’s district lines so that a half-dozen more congressional seats could be won by Republicans.
That’s when Tom DeLay came home to Texas. Working with one of his Washington operatives, he created a political-action committee in Texas, modeled on his own national PAC. Texans for a Republican Majority was spectacularly successful. It raised $1.5 million and elected 17 new Republican members of the state House, seizing control of the body for the first time in 130 years. With his handpicked Texas House speaker in place, DeLay personally presided over the redrawing of the state’s congressional districts. The map he put in place will provide the Republicans five to seven new seats in Congress.
But there’s this problem with Texas law. Since 1905, it’s been against state law to raise or spend corporate money in Texas. And DeLay’s Texas PAC raised three-quarters of a million corporate dollars. They reported their corporate contributions only with the IRS in Washington, avoiding disclosure to the state agency that regulates elections in Texas. Ronnie Earle, a D.A. with statewide prosecutorial authority, caught them. He also found they were doing some odd things with their money, like sending $190,000 corporate “soft” dollars to the Republican National State Election Committee in Washington in exchange for $190,000 non-corporate “hard” dollars that can be legally spent in Texas. DeLay insists he had little to do with Texans for a Republican Majority, which seems odd since he founded it. And the PAC’s Texas director said under oath that DeLay was consulted on PAC activities. DeLay has said he raised no corporate money himself, but a June 24, 2002, letter I found in the exhibits of a civil suit filed in Austin suggests otherwise:
Dear Congressman DeLay:
On behalf of the Williams Companies Inc., I am pleased to forward our contribution of $25,000 for the [Texans for a Republican Majority] that we pledged at the June 2 fund-raisers.
With best wishes . . .
HE’S GOING TO NEED THEM. As is Williams Companies Inc., one of eight corporations indicted by the Travis County D.A.
At about the same time I found the letter from Williams’ vice president of government affairs,the Washington Post turned up e-mail records of DeLay asking Enron CEO Ken Lay for $100,000 in corporate and individual money to be used in the Texas elections. If reporters are producing incriminating documents, it’s likely the D.A.’s criminal investigators have them. DeLay now faces the looming prospect of his three Texas fund-raisers and officers of eight corporations that contributed corporate funds to his PAC testifying under oath in state district court. The indictments in Austin, said a lawyer working on the civil suits filed by Texas Democrats unseated by DeLay’s PAC, point directly to Washington.
Then there’s the other $25,000 check — from Westar Energy. The corporate contribution led to the second House Ethics Committee reprimand the majority leader received in one week. It’s easy to dismiss an admonishment by House Ethics, as DeLay’s lawyer Ed Bethune did when he talked to reporters. Yet any action by the committee is big news. Everyone on Capitol Hill knows House Ethics has all the vitality of a Ralph Nader presidential campaign. In 1997, House Democrats and Republicans reached an unofficial agreement that they would file no ethics complaints against each other. At the same time, new House rules barred outside parties from filing complaints. So the committee acts only when the conduct of a House member is so outrageous it cannot be ignored.