If you're House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the chief target of congressional Democrats' fury, maintaining a bevy of lawyers and a legal defense fund is as vital as having speechwriters and appointment secretaries.
This week's ethics complaint against the Texas Republican is the latest in a series of lawsuits and accusations that have kept DeLay in debt to lawyers, even as supporters keep sending money to his defense fund, according to financial disclosure reports released yesterday. Ten corporations and four individuals sent $53,500 last year to the Tom DeLay Legal Expense Trust, yet DeLay ended the year owing more than $50,000 to a Houston law firm that defended him in a lawsuit dropped three years ago, the reports show.
"I have attorneys everywhere," DeLay told reporters who asked him this week if he had hired a lawyer to handle the ethics complaint filed against him by Rep. Chris Bell (D-Tex.). "I have attorneys that I keep on retainer because the Democrats even announced that they are coming after me. . . . Everything that I do, every decision that I make, every move that I make, I consult to make sure that it's legal and it's ethical."
House members' 2003 disclosure forms provide insights into the fortunes and misfortunes of the 435 lawmakers, who range from multimillionaires to politicians reporting little more than a $154,700 House salary and credit card debt.
Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), whose San Diego area home was destroyed by wildfire last year, received more than $500,000 in insurance payments. Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) had a happier year, marrying a prominent lobbyist and obtaining the House ethics committee's permission not to report their wedding gifts.
Several reports hinted at the benefits of long-term marriage. Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) reported that his wife -- Debbie Dingell, vice chairman of the General Motors Corp. Foundation -- holds GM stock options valued at more than $1 million and a company savings and stock-purchase plan worth more than $500,000.
San Francisco investor Paul Pelosi, husband of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), owns buildings, stock and vineyards worth millions of dollars. He did not have a perfect year, however, losing more than $100,000 buying and selling Amazon.com stock.
DeLay, meanwhile, appears to spend more time on legal battles than investments. He created his legal defense fund in 2000, after a Democratic campaign committee filed a lawsuit accusing him of racketeering. DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella said yesterday that the lawmaker spent about $600,000 defending against the "completely frivolous" suit, dropped in 2001.
DeLay and his staff used similar language to dismiss Bell's complaint, filed Tuesday with the ethics committee. Bell told reporters that "a mountain of evidence indicates that Tom DeLay may be guilty of serious criminal acts including bribery, extortion, fraud, money laundering and abuse of power."
DeLay said he will use his four-year-old legal defense fund, if necessary, to defend against the complaint. He said he held no money-raising events for the defense fund in 2003, but 14 checks arrived anyway. They included $5,000 each from Reliant Energy Inc. of Houston, International Integrated Industries of Las Vegas, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., radio company owner Edward G. Atsinger III of California, and political action committees associated with Reps. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) and John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.). The 2003 reports also show:
* Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) reported no assets; liabilities of $75,000 to $165,000; stock options trading losses of $22,900 in 2003; and cumulative capital losses of more than $330,000 carried forward from past years. His lawyer, Kenneth Labowitz, said the losses included some predating his 1990 election to Congress. Federal law generally allows taxpayers to apply past capital losses against current capital gains to lower their tax liability.
* Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) made domestic trips financed by the Electric Power Supply Association, the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, the Edison Electric Institute and the American Gas Association.
* Rep. Dingell, the Energy Committee's ranking Democrat, invested more than $15,000 in energy giant ConocoPhillips.
* Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) took eight domestic trips paid for by groups that included Winn Dixie, the Association of American Railroads, the Maritime Trades Department, Guardian Air Service and the National Rifle Association.
* Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.), the Financial Services Committee's top Democrat, took 17 domestic trips paid for by groups that included the Institute of International Bankers, American Bankers Association, New York Stock Exchange, United Nations GLOBE, the Massachusetts Municipal Association, ACLU of Colorado and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
* Rep. Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.), a member of the GOP whip operation, held investments of more than $50,000 in Consumers Energy Co. and more than $15,000 each in CenterPoint Energy Inc., Consolidated Edison Inc. and Royal Dutch Petroleum.
Staff writer Spencer Hsu and researchers Brian Faler and Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.