Correction to This Article
A June 7 article reported that the consulting firm of Julie Doolittle, the wife of Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), solicited corporate campaign contributions and received commissions for obtaining them. The article should have said that Doolittle's firm received commissions for contributions she solicited from corporate-directed political action committees.

Retirement Account of DeLay's Wife Traced

Rep. Tom DeLay, shown with wife Christine, is set to leave office on Friday.
Rep. Tom DeLay, shown with wife Christine, is set to leave office on Friday. (By Harry Cabluck -- Associated Press)
By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 7, 2006

A registered lobbyist opened a retirement account in the late 1990s for the wife of then-House Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and contributed thousands of dollars to it while also paying her a salary to work for him from her home in Texas, according to sources, documents and DeLay's attorney, Richard Cullen.

The account represents a small portion of the income that DeLay's family received from entities at least partly controlled by lobbyist Edwin A. Buckham. But the disclosure of its origin adds to what was previously known about the benefits DeLay's family received from its association with Buckham, and it brings the total over the past seven years to about half a million dollars.

Buckham was DeLay's chief of staff before he became a lobbyist at the end of 1998, shortly before the account was opened and the flow of funds began. He has come under scrutiny from federal investigators because his lobbying firm received hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from clients of indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Buckham's financial ties to DeLay's family -- and the retirement account in particular -- have recently attracted the interest of FBI agents and others in the federal task force probing public corruption by lawmakers and lobbyists, according to a source who was questioned in the course of the government's investigation.

Cullen said the retirement account was required for Buckham's employees under Internal Revenue Service rules. But investigators are looking at Buckham's role in establishing the account and at whether the lawmaker may have performed official acts in return for any of the income arranged by Buckham, according to the source. DeLay denies any wrongdoing.

Another lawmaker, Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), has similarly come under Justice Department scrutiny in the past year because of fees paid to his wife's consulting firm -- in that instance as compensation for soliciting corporate campaign contributions.

Abramoff, who was friendly with both DeLay and Doolittle, put Julie Doolittle's firm on his lobbying firm's payroll to plan a fundraising event for a nonprofit group he created. A nonprofit organization that Buckham created also hired her firm to keep its books; the organization subsidized a $28,000 trip to South Korea by DeLay and his wife.

Laura Blackann, a spokeswoman for John Doolittle, confirmed that a grand jury investigating Abramoff's lobbying activities subpoenaed Julie Doolittle's firm in 2004 to obtain some of its records. In February, the FBI subpoenaed another nonprofit group created by Buckham, seeking records of any dealings with DeLay, his wife and his daughter, according to a copy of the subpoena.

From 1998 until recently, Buckham, an evangelical minister, met regularly with DeLay, occasionally attended staff meetings in his office, made scheduling recommendations or decisions for the office, and served as DeLay's chief political and spiritual adviser, even though he was not formally employed by him. At the time, Buckham's clients included a host of companies with regulatory and legislative business before Congress, and whose interests DeLay supported.

Under congressional ethics rules, lobbyists such as Buckham are barred from providing gifts or gratuities with a total value exceeding $50 to lawmakers in a single year. No similar prohibition exists for payments to a lawmaker's family members, but the pay must be a reasonable wage for real work and not be meant to influence a lawmaker's votes. Nothing in pending House and Senate lobbying reform legislation addresses the issue of such lobbyist payments to lawmaker's families.

DeLay, who was indicted in October 2005 on charges of money laundering related to the 2002 elections in Texas, announced in April that he would resign from Congress on June 9. He stepped down as House majority leader after the indictment, relinquishing a post he held from 2002 to 2005. DeLay has not disclosed his future employment plans but has said he plans to continue to promote conservative causes in Washington.

Buckham, who co-owned his lobbying firm with his wife, initially opened the retirement account for Christine DeLay at First Union bank. In 2001, he transferred it to the Charles Schwab & Co. office near his home in Frederick, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter. From 1999 to 2000, DeLay listed the account as a spousal asset on his financial disclosure forms without specifying its value.

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