Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life: <i>it's Hammer Time</i> .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

it's Hammer Time

DeLay Troubles Cause Concern
DeLay faces noisy, partisan debate on ethics
Documents Suggest Bigger DeLay Role in Donations
DeLay Says He Was Aware of Fund-Raising Methods
As DeLay's Woes Mount, So Does Money

Things are heating up for our buddy from Sugar Land, Tom DeLay.

"If death comes from a thousand cuts, Tom DeLay is into a couple hundred, and it's getting up there," said a Republican political consultant close to key lawmakers. "The situation is negatively fluid right now for the guy. You start hitting arteries, it only takes a couple." The consultant, who at times has been a DeLay ally, spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he could not be candid otherwise.

It appears he's getting into hotter water every day, as he continues to claim he's doing nothing wrong, yet is acting only in our own best interest as he bulls his way through the system, making life easier for special interests in his quest for a better America.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay traveled to Britain with his wife, several aides and lobbyists on a $70,000 junket mostly paid for with money from an Indian tribe and a gambling services company, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
Not long after the outing, Rep. DeLay, the second most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives, played a key role in killing gaming-related legislation opposed by the company and tribe.

But how misunderstood can you get? Here's conservative hero Tom DeLay, trying to help our Native Americans get their due. What gives?

Two months after the trip, the Post reported, DeLay voted against a bill that could have hurt the [Choctaw] tribes' gambling interests. Six months after the trip, the report said, he made a floor speech in which he called one of the tribe's leaders a "champion of peace and prosperity."

DeLay has said he opposes expansion of legal gambling.

The bill he killed was called the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, which would have made it illegal to place bets over the internet. That doesn't sound like he's opposed to the expansion of gambling to me. And wasn't the Choctaw tribe just given a $3 million dollar grant for school construction? I would think that if they could afford to send "the Hammer" and his entourage on a junket (i.e. paid vacation), they could afford to put money into their own schools.

I know, I'm a heartless liberal, wanting to deprive these poor downtrodden people of their right to the political process. After all, everyone else gets to bribe their lawmakers, why shouldn't they?

But is DeLay really in danger of being prosecuted for his obvious "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" back room political tactics? Not likely. He was admonished three times last year by the Congressional Ethics Committee for apparently trading legislation for personal favors, which led to the replacement of two Republicans on the Ethics Committee for others who were more loyal to The Cause, and a change in the rules that made it more difficult to investigate ethics complaints.

The rule changes require at least one member of each party to support an investigation before it is begun. Under the old rules, if the chairman and top Democrat did not agree on what to do with a complaint within 45 days after it was determined to be valid, an investigative subcommittee was automatically created. Now, a complaint is automatically dismissed if the committee does not act within 45 days.

So basically, if the leading Democrat and leading Republican on the committee can't agree that the complaint is valid within 45 days, it gets dismissed. This would have resulted in DeLay's complaints never coming to light had the rules been in effect at the time.

But we can count on our non-partisan elected officials to look beyond this loophole, despite the fact they might be investigating a celebrated fundraiser like Tommy Boy, right?

A legal defense fund established by Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, has dramatically expanded its fund-raising effort in recent months, taking in more than $250,000 since the indictment last fall of two his closest political operatives in Texas, according to Mr. DeLay's latest financial disclosure statements.

The list of recent donors includes dozens of Mr. DeLay's House Republican colleagues, including two lawmakers who were placed on the House ethics committee this year, and several of the nation's largest corporations and their executives.

House Republican donors, Lamar Smith of Texas, who has given $10,000 to Mr. DeLay, and Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who gave $5,000, were placed on the House ethics committee this year, a move that drew criticism from House Democrats given the possibility that it might investigate the majority leader.

Well, maybe not. But at least he won't have a huge war chest, like he did for his illegal PAC that helped gain a Republican majority in the House.

Among the corporate donors to the defense fund is Bacardi U.S.A., the Florida-based rum maker, which has also been indicted in the Texas investigation, and Reliant Energy, another major contributor to a Texas political action committee formed by Mr. DeLay that is the focus of the criminal inquiry. Groups seeking an overhaul of Congressional ethics rules have long complained that companies might seek the favor of powerful lawmakers by contributing to their legal defense funds.

Okay, with all this backing, surely he must be one of the good guys. I mean, how can forty million American dollars be wrong? Surely they wouln't do this unless he represented something good for our country?

The intersection of DeLay's political dealings and pending legislation was raised by the ethics committee last year, when it issued three admonishments against the House leader.

The committee noted an appearance of impropriety was created by an exclusive DeLay fund-raiser in 2002 for energy executives, including Reliant Energy of Houston, just before he served on a panel dealing with major energy legislation. The relationship with Reliant also has been raised in the pending civil lawsuit in Texas.

So they paid big money to play golf with him, and he steered legislation their way. What's the harm? It's not like he used the money to buy new cars or houses, 'cause he already has plenty of those. He used the money to kick all of the bleeding-heart liberals out of the Texas Legislature so they can pass important laws to keep gays from taking over the country. Surely that's worth breaking a few laws.

And all it takes is a well-funded Political Action Committee...

Discussing the committee's origins, Mr. DeLay said, "Yes, it was my idea, or it was our idea - those of us that wanted to enhance the Republicans who served in the House of Representatives in the Texas Legislature."

Two of Mr. DeLay's political operatives based in Washington were indicted last September in the Texas investigation, charged with taking part in what prosecutors have described as a plot to funnel corporate donations from the committee to Republican candidates, in violation of state election laws. Texas law bars companies from making donations to state candidates.

But wait! After the investigation started, the story changed:

In a videotaped deposition played at a civil trial in Texas last week, the committee's former executive director testified that Mr. DeLay did not come up with the idea of creating the committee and suggested that the House majority leader had little to do with day-to-day operations. The former executive director, John Colyandro, is among those indicted in Texas.

What's this? Surely as an upstanding House member, Tom DeLay will set the record straight...

Mr. DeLay said Wednesday that he had only an "advisory capacity" at the committee. He said he was aware of what he described as a careful effort to separate corporate donations, which under Texas law can be used only for administrative costs, from individual donations, which can go to candidates.

Apparently, hubris made DeLay claim credit for the PAC, when in reality he had little to do with it. It's a common mistake in American politics. I mean, it's not like he claimed to invent the "internets".

Documents subpoenaed from an indicted fund-raiser for Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, suggest that Mr. DeLay was more actively involved than previously known in gathering corporate donations for a political committee that is the focus of a grand-jury investigation in Texas, his home state.

The documents, which were entered into evidence last week in a related civil trial in Austin, the state capital, suggest that Mr. DeLay personally forwarded at least one large corporate check to the committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, and that he was in direct contact with lobbyists for some of the nation's largest companies on the committee's behalf.

In an August 2002 document subpoenaed from the files of the indicted fund-raiser, Warren M. RoBold, Mr. RoBold asked for a list of 10 major donors to the committee, saying that "I would then decide from response who Tom DeLay" and others should call to help the committee in seeking a "large contribution."

I'm confused here. He didn't have much to do with the PAC that made illegal transactions, but he helped collect the money for those transactions. Just how involved was he in this PAC?

An e-mail exchange from the computer files of a member of the committee's advisory board notes that a "finance committee" conference call in October 2002 was postponed at Mr. DeLay's request "because of action on Iraq."

Other documents show how often Mr. DeLay's name was cited by the committee's fund-raisers when they were seeking donations. An e-mail message sent by Mr. Colyandro on Sept. 20, 2002, asked that a telephone call be made to a prominent Texas lawyer for his help at a fund-raising event the following week. "He needs a push," Mr. Colyandro wrote. "Please tell him how important he is and how important this is to T. D."

Okay, so he wanted to be involved in financial decisions, and helped apply a little pressure to reluctant contributors. Does that mean he actively participated in the daily operation of the PAC?

Another document is a printout of a July 2002 e-mail message to Mr. RoBold from a political ally of Mr. Delay, requesting a list of corporate lobbyists who would attend a fund-raising event for the committee, adding that "DeLay will want to see a list of attendees" and that the list should be available "on the ground in Austin for T.D. upon his arrival."

Uh, okay. He actively participated. But, in denial of the evidence, not according to RoBold's lawyer.

A lawyer for Mr. RoBold, Rusty Hardin of Houston, said that the documents offered no evidence to suggest any wrongdoing by Mr. RoBold or Mr. DeLay, and that Mr. RoBold continued to believe that Mr. DeLay had only a limited advisory role on Texans for a Republican Majority.

"Warren was just having no contact with DeLay about this," Mr. Hardin said in an interview. "DeLay wasn't directing him."

The released documents show that DeLay was, or at least was inferred to be, involved in all but the legal activities of the PACs operation. Naturally, this delighted his opposition.

Cris Feldman, a lawyer for the Democratic candidates, said he believed that the newly revealed documents from Mr. RoBold were eye-opening.

"We always knew Tom DeLay was involved," Mr. Feldman said, "but we never realized the extent to which he was involved in fund-raising directly with corporations."

One of the most intriguing documents, he said, was a printout of a September 2002 e-mail exchange between Mr. RoBold and Drew Maloney, a Washington lobbyist who is Mr. DeLay's former legislative director and administrative assistant in the House.
Mr. Maloney, who has lobbied on behalf of Reliant Energy, the Houston-based energy company that was a major contributor to Texans for a Republican Majority, offered Mr. RoBold a list of possible corporate donors to the Texas committee, adding: "I finally have the two checks from Reliant. Will deliver to T.D. next week."

Ooh, that's gotta hurt. Maloney, who's probably not going to be invited on many of DeLay's future junkets, delivers the smoking gun. But in his defense...

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Mr. Maloney said he could not recall many of the details of the Reliant donations or whether checks from Reliant were ever transferred to the Texas committee through Mr. DeLay's office in Washington.
"I don't think it was necessarily meant that he'd get them himself," he said. "I don't know how that all flowed."

So there you have it. Maybe he did, and maybe he didn't.

Asked if he had been contacted by prosecutors in Austin or by the grand jury, Mr. Maloney would not comment, saying instead: "I'm not going to get into these witch-hunt allegations. I think there's been enough written on all this stuff."

Au contraire, mon ami. I think there's plenty more to be "written on all this stuff". Hopefully, it will be written with us, the taxpayers, in mind. And not just the PAC contributors.

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