Former DeLay Aide Enriched By Nonprofit
Sunday, March 26, 2006
A top adviser to former House Whip Tom DeLay received more than a third of all the money collected by the U.S. Family Network, a nonprofit organization the adviser created to promote a pro-family political agenda in Congress, according to the group's accounting records.
DeLay's former chief of staff, Edwin A. Buckham, who helped create the group while still in DeLay's employ, and his wife, Wendy, were the principal beneficiaries of the group's $3.02 million in revenue, collecting payments totaling $1,022,729 during a five-year period ending in 2001, public and private records show.
The group's revenue was drawn mostly from clients of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to its records. From an FBI subpoena for the records, it can be inferred that the bureau is exploring whether there were links between the payments and favorable legislative treatment of Abramoff's clients by DeLay's office.
In recent months, Abramoff pleaded guilty to charges of tax fraud and conspiracy to defraud clients and bribe a public official; DeLay (R-Tex.) stepped down from his post as House majority leader; and Buckham folded his lobbying firm, the Alexander Strategy Group.
In the late 1990s, when DeLay's influence was growing, the lawmaker depicted the USFN in a promotional letter as a nationwide, grass-roots organization. In fact, it had a tiny staff that barely registered an impact on Capitol Hill. The group appears to have served mostly as a vehicle for funneling corporate funds to DeLay's advisers and financing ads that attacked Democrats.
The group's payments to the Buckhams -- in the form of a monthly retainer as well as commissions on donations by Abramoff's clients -- overlapped briefly with Edwin Buckham's service as chief of staff to DeLay and continued during his subsequent role as DeLay's chief political adviser.
During this latter period, Buckham and his wife, Wendy, acting through their consulting firm, made monthly payments averaging $3,200-$3,400 apiece to DeLay's wife, Christine, for three of the years in which he collected money from the USFN and some other clients.
Even though Buckham left DeLay's staff at the end of 1997, he still coordinated much of the congressional office's work and ran DeLay's principal fundraising committee from a building bought with USFN money, according to three former DeLay staff members who said they had firsthand knowledge of his role then.
"If an individual called DeLay's appointments secretary saying they wanted to talk to DeLay about overregulation, the appointment secretary would say go speak to Buckham," one former aide said. Buckham, an evangelical minister, also continued to serve as DeLay's spiritual adviser and prayed frequently with him, the former aides said.
DeLay's lawyer, Richard Cullen, disputed the accounts of Buckham's influence. He said Buckham made appointment requests but was not involved in final decisions on scheduling after he left the office. He also said Buckham did not coordinate the office's activities, saying that was done by successors.
Abramoff, for his part, once boasted that he had invested a million dollars in Buckham, according to a former Abramoff colleague who said he witnessed the conversation. Abramoff expressed confidence that the funds would bring a good return for his clients, the colleague said. Abramoff, through a spokesman, declined comment on this claim or other details of this article.
Wendy Buckham was not the only spouse of a DeLay staffer to benefit from the USFN revenue stream sustained by Abramoff's clients. A consulting firm owned by the wife of Tony C. Rudy, DeLay's deputy chief of staff, was paid $15,600 by the group in 1999 and another $10,400 in 2000. Rudy resigned to work with Abramoff in 2001. It could not be determined what the payments were for.