DeLay's Corporate Fundraising Investigated
Money Was Directed to Texas GOP to Help State Redistricting Effort
By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2004; Page A01
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.
DeLay's fundraising efforts helped produce a stunning political success. Republicans took control of the Texas House for the first time in 130 years, Texas congressional districts were redrawn to send more Republican lawmakers to Washington, and DeLay -- now the House majority leader -- is more likely to retain his powerful post after the November election, according to political experts.
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."
Many corporate donors were explicitly told in TRMPAC letters that their donations were not "disclosable" in public records. But documents from several unrelated investigations offer an exceptional glimpse of how corporate money was able to influence state politics -- and also of DeLay's bold use of his network of corporate supporters to advance his agenda.
By investing as much as $2.5 million in corporate money in the 2002 election, TRMPAC and another group, the Texas Association of Business, were able to help elect 26 new Republican candidates to the Texas House. The new Republican majority then redrew the congressional district boundaries and, as a result, five Democrats are likely to lose in the Nov. 2 election, according to political experts.
This case "is only one piece of a much larger picture," said Ronnie Earle, the Travis County district attorney running the investigation. "And the larger picture is a blueprint of what is happening in the country, namely a saturation of the political process by large corporate interests with large amounts of money."
Earle, an elected Democrat who oversees the state's Public Integrity Unit, previously prosecuted four elected Republicans and 12 Democrats for corruption or election law violations. So far, he has issued about 100 subpoenas in this case, most of them secret.
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