Tuesday, January 10, 2006

DeLay or Not DeLay?

Today, TheRestofUs.org called on all candidates for leadership positions in the upcoming Republican House Leadership elections to disclose daily all the contributions they make to other candidates in the run-up to the elections.

A little background on why these elections are taking place and why we called on these candidates to disclose their contributions to their colleagues:

DeLay Steps Down . . .
Rep. Tom DeLay was House Majority Leader until September of last year (2005), when he was indicted on charges of conspiring to violate Texas campaign finance law's prohibition against corporate contributions to candidates. A few days later, he was re-indicted on charges of money laundering in connection with the same case.

As House Rules require representatives in leadership positions who have been indicted to resign their post, DeLay stepped down from his Majority Leader post. (DeLay's fellow Republicans had voted at the beginning of the year to rescind that rule in order to protect DeLay against the much-discussed impending indictments, but were forced to reinstate the rule after much public outcry.)

. . . Sort of
When DeLay resigned his leadership post however, he did so only temporarily, pending what he assured his colleagues would be a quick victory in the case against him. Much like the Oscars use seat-fillers to take the place of temporarily departed audience members in order to maintain the appearances of a packed house, DeLay used his considerable power and influence to leave himself a caretaker in his recently-departed position: Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri.

But DeLay's comeback efforts were cut short yesterday (January 9, 2005) when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied his request to either throw out the indictments against him or grant him an expedited trial. Having read the tea leaves or goat entrails or stars, DeLay decided over the weekend not to seek restoration to his House Majority Leader position. No doubt his connections to lobbyist turned public whipping boy Jack Abramoff helped cement the decision.

The Seat-Filler
Rep. Roy Blunt was more than just any seat-filler. Starting back in 1999, Blunt had gone to school at the feet of DeLay, who was House Majority Whip at the time. Faster than you can launder $190,000, Blunt and DeLay were swapping money back and forth between their leadership PACs and contributing millions of dollars to state and federal committees and candidates in order to build their power and influence within the donor committee and amongst their colleagues.

(Check out the interesting Associated Press graphic on the Houston Chronicle's website for the grisly details. Titled "Swapping Funds", it is in the right-hand column under Graphics about two-thirds of the way down.)

In late 2002, DeLay moved up in the world, winning election as House Majority Leader. Blunt, DeLay's deputy since 1999, also moved up, winning election to replace DeLay as House Whip (check out the press release section).

How did he do it? Well, in addition to being DeLay's boy, Blunt's ascension was no doubt aided by his contributions to his fellow House Republican candidates. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Blunt's leadership PAC, fittingly known as the Rely on Your Beliefs Fund, doled out the following contributions to his fellow House Republican candidates:
2000 - $204,429
2002 - $591,762
2004 - $682,039

In the same elections, DeLay doled out:
2000 - $816,391
2002 - $952,355
2004 - $914,000

The student had not quite yet become the master.

Leadership Elections
As the rise of Blunt and DeLay help show, contributions from leadership PACs play an integral role in building support with colleagues when leadership elections roll around, as they will in the first week of February of this year, thanks to DeLay's recent resignation. Leadership PACs also play a role in the continuing efforts of wealthy interests - like Jack Abramoff, Duke Cunningham's alleged co-conspirators Brent Wilkes and Mitch Wade, and all manner of corporate interest - to use their money to buy power and influence in Washington.

Why Daily Disclosure
Unfortunately, leadership PACs are generally required to report no more than monthly. The reports for January won't be filed until February 20, well past the scheduled time for the upcoming leadership elections. February reports won't be available until March 20.

This time lag means that neither the public nor House Republicans will know until after the election how much money the leadership candidates are spreading around in an effort to buy influence and support from their colleagues. This information will be crucial both to those Republicans who are truly interested in cleaning up the way business gets done in Washington and to the public, whose confidence in Congress has been rocked by a series of scandals related to influence-peddling in the nation's capital.

Without voluntary disclosure of these contributions prior to the elections, neither House Republicans nor the public will know whether the new leader is made in the same mold as Tom DeLay, or is truly interested in a cleaner, more ethical, more representative Congress. This is especially true considering Blunt's track record, and even more so considering his main opposition for Majority Leader, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, also has a leadership PAC from which he doled out some $337,529 to colleagues in the first 11 months of 2005.

DeLay or not DeLay? Only the candidates for House leadership can answer that question. We await their response.

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