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
Since 1999, it has reprimanded DeLay three times, a distinction no other member of the House not currently in prison can claim. In 1999, the committee wrote a private letter to DeLay, and a memo to all House members, after DeLay pulled a major piece of legislation off the House floor to try to stop a trade association from hiring a former Democratic congressman. (DeLay insists that lobby positions go to Republicans only). Before it addressed the $25,000 Westar contribution last week, the committee reprimanded DeLay for promising to support the campaign of the son of Congressman Nick Smith in exchange for Smith’s vote on the Medicare prescription-drug bill passed last November. Yet in one of the stranger stories of the last Congress, the central and most incriminating allegation related to the story disappeared. The day after the vote, Smith had said a $100,000 political contribution (something like a bribe) was linked to the offer of support for his son. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. By the time Smith got to the House Ethics Committee, he had recanted, perhaps because the allegations regarding money are a prosecutable offense.
In that case the committee acted on its own. The second current Ethics Committee reprimand was a response to the complaint that ended the seven-year truce. Chris Bell, a former Houston congressman who lost the primary when his district was redrawn, submitted a long bill of particulars regarding DeLay’s role in redistricting in Texas. In response, the committee admonished DeLay for attending a golf tournament with Westar executives. DeLay’s golf with the boys from Westar occurred after they gave him $25,000 to “get a seat at the table,” at a conference committee hearing of an energy bill the company wanted to amend. They got their amendment, on DeLay’s orders, but it was pulled when a Westar executive was indicted on unrelated charges. In the same action, committee members also voted to admonish DeLay for using the FAA to track down the plane of a Democratic legislator who flew from Texas to Oklahoma — in an attempt to break a House quorum Republicans needed to pass DeLay’s redistricting plan.
DeLay even has problems in the Senate, where a committee is investigating an Indian-lobby scandal involving his former press secretary Mike Scanlon and his friend and longtime adviser Jack Abramoff. Together they billed six Indian tribes a staggering $66 million in four years. That money also moved in odd circles. Abramoff is a registered lobbyist, subject to disclosure requirements. So Scanlon did most of the billing, then discreetly moved the money back to the older Abramoff. But large sums went to the American International Center, a think tank run by a lifeguard and yoga instructor who are friends of Scanlon. And to various charities directed by Abramoff. And to the Republican’s national government association, which got a $500,000 check from Scanlon in 2002 — not too long after he finished paying off his college loans.
Scanlon and Abramoff are a regular Washington laugh riot, beloved and admired in Republican circles. But they failed to pay attention to the basic rules of lobbying. In particular the one that advises lobbyists to avoid describing clients as “morons, monkeys,” and “fucking troglodytes” in e-mails that might be someday subpoenaed. Senator John McCain and the members of Senate Indian Affairs are now poring over those e-mails. As are two D.C. FBI offices and a grand jury. At least one of the leaders of the tribes that got stiffed on the lobbying fees has openly complained about Abramoff and Scanlon selling their access to DeLay. After Shawn Martin of the obscure American Press in Lake Charles, Louisiana, broke the story early this year, DeLay warned anyone using his name to impress lobbying clients to “stop immediately.” He was a few years too late.
The last elected official to make a serious run at DeLay’s fund-raising operation was Henry Waxman. The Los Angeles congressman was investigating $37,000 in illegal political contributions that cost a Texas donor recruited by DeLay $400,000 in fines, while DeLay walked. (Actually, he flew away from the district on the poor guy’s tab.) But House Government Reform Committee chair Dan Burton used his majority position to block Waxman’s subpoena of the FBI files and notes that might have told the whole story.
Ronnie Earle has subpoena power in Austin, where he is convening a third grand jury. As does John McCain in Washington, where Indian Affairs has issued subpoenas for the first time in the history of the committee. The Washington grand jury investigating the scandal has even subpoenaed Imelda Marcos, so this one could really get strange. Everybody is lawyered up. It’s beginning to look like some of these guys might end up sharing a cell with Jimmy Traficant, the tonsorially challenged Ohio Democrat put away two years ago for bribery and racketeering. And if DeLay escapes indictment in Texas, his designs on the speaker’s chair in Washington are history.