Rep. Tom DeLay, majority whip of the House and a paragon of virtue and moral absolutism – when in comes to scolding Democrats, that is – is under investigation for illegal fundraising in Texas.
In May 2001, Enron’s top lobbyists in Washington advised the company chairman that then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) was pressing for a $100,000 contribution to his political action committee, in addition to the $250,000 the company had already pledged to the Republican Party that year.
DeLay requested that the new donation come from “a combination of corporate and personal money from Enron’s executives,” with the understanding that it would be partly spent on “the redistricting effort in Texas,” said the e-mail to Kenneth L. Lay from lobbyists Rick Shapiro and Linda Robertson.
The e-mail, which surfaced in a subsequent federal probe of Houston-based Enron, is one of at least a dozen documents obtained by The Washington Post that show DeLay and his associates directed money from corporations and Washington lobbyists to Republican campaign coffers in Texas in 2001 and 2002 as part of a plan to redraw the state’s congressional districts.
But DeLay and his colleagues also face serious legal challenges: Texas law bars corporate financing of state legislature campaigns, and a Texas criminal prosecutor is in the 20th month of digging through records of the fundraising, looking at possible violations of at least three statutes. A parallel lawsuit, also in the midst of discovery, is seeking $1.5 million in damages from DeLay’s aides and one of his political action committees — Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) — on behalf of four defeated Democratic lawmakers.
DeLay has not been named as a target of the investigation. The prosecutor has said he is focused on the activities of political action committees linked to DeLay and the redistricting effort. But officials in the prosecutor’s office say anyone involved in raising, collecting or spending the corporate money, who also knew of its intended use in Texas elections, is vulnerable.
Documents unearthed in the probe make clear that DeLay was central to creating and overseeing the fundraising. What the prosecutors are still assessing is who knew about the day-to-day operations of TRMPAC and how its money was used to benefit Texas House candidates.
Several weeks ago, DeLay hired two criminal defense attorneys to represent him in the probe. He previously created a fund for corporate donors to help him pay legal bills related to allegations of improper fundraising, and is now considering extending its reach to include the fees for these attorneys.
DeLay declined to comment for this article. Stuart Roy, his spokesman, said: “DeLay is doing everything moral, legal and ethical to increase the Republican majority and advance conservative ideas. He raised legal campaign money for effective political activity and that makes his critics enraged. Unfortunately, some Democrats are making an attempt to criminalize politics.”
Cristen D. Feldman, the Texas lawyer who filed the suit, said in response, “I guess DeLay and his team forgot they were from Texas . . . [where] the prohibition against clandestine corporate cash is 100 years old.”
DeLay’s effort to build a Republican majority in the state legislature by channeling large campaign donations to Texas from lobbyists and corporations with interests before Congress dates at least from the 2000 election.
In an e-mail dated July 24 of that year, Enron Executive Vice President Steven J. Kean advised colleagues that DeLay had sent notes to company executives “about designating portions of their contributions for use in Texas.”
Three days later, Enron sent a check for $50,000 to the Republican National State Elections Committee (RNSEC) in Washington, and three top executives sent checks totaling $25,000. Around the same time, RNSEC transferred $1.2 million to the Texas Republican Party, which in turn donated $1.3 million to 20 legislative candidates that year, according to federal and state records.
There’s a lot more here, but what it boils down to is that Tom DeLay basically raised money to redistrict Texas in accordance with his wishes and strategy and got big corporations in Texas to pay for it. The fact that it was legally doubtful is irrelevant as long as it furthers the greater good of getting Republicans elected in Texas. There’s a moral absolute for you.