PUBLISHER’S COMMENTARY: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the scandal-ridden poster boy for political fraud, targeted special interest groups and solicited large campaign contributions by promising support on their issues, a study by the Associated Press has found. DeLay’s Greek Chorus will claim this is just politics as usual in Washington. They are correct in that assessment but it still does not make it right.
Fundraisers for a political committee founded by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay routinely solicited donations by identifying legislative actions that prospective givers wanted, from video gambling to lawsuit limits, memos show.
“What companies that you know of would be interested in tort reform in Texas with asbestos problems that might support TRMPAC?” one DeLay fundraiser wrote in a memo prospecting for donors to the Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee (TRMPAC).
That memo elicited an answer identifying several large companies and interest groups nationwide interested in lawsuit-limiting legislation in Congress and Texas, the documents show.
The fundraisers also discussed using DeLay himself to make calls to round up some of the bigger donations, and referred to delivery of at least two checks they collected directly to the House majority leader.
“Create a top 10 list of givers and let me call them to ask for large contribution,” DeLay fundraiser Warren RoBold wrote in August 2002. “I would then decide from response who Tom DeLay others should call.”
Other TRMPAC fundraising memos mention that Texas racetrack owners needed state permission for video gambling, that banks wanted new Texas home-lending rules and that energy firms wanted less regulation.
Federal law and congressional ethics rules prohibit government officials from connecting political donations to their official actions. DeLay was admonished last year by the House’s ethics committee for creating the appearance of connecting energy industry donations with federal legislation.
DeLay spokesman Dan Allen said Monday, “These memos already have been covered in the press and the conclusions being reached are speculative and unsubstantiated. The contention being pushed is unfairly vague.”
DeLay has said that while he founded the Texas political action committee and advised it, he is not involved in its day-to-day operations. A Democratic Texas prosecutor has indicted three former DeLay aides on charges related to TRMPAC’s receipt and use of corporate contributions.
The documents reviewed by The Associated Press were made public through a civil lawsuit and by the House ethics committee. They provide a window into how the DeLay-founded Texas group studied policy and legislative issues as it targeted possible donors.
In 2002, a fundraiser’s handwritten note appears alongside the name of a Texas racetrack owner who – along with other state track operators – wanted state permission to begin offering video gambling at the tracks.
“Brings $1 billion. Polls 83 percent in favor,” the fundraiser’s note said.
Weeks after that visit to the company’s chief executive, track owner Maxxam Inc. contributed $5,000 to Texans for a Republican Majority.
In another exchange of e-mails, RoBold asked Drew Maloney, a lobbyist and former DeLay aide, for a list of companies and organizations interested in limiting damage awards, especially firms with asbestos liability problems.
“I would say Dow Chemical (they have a big asbestos problem), other cos. with asbestos problems including … Owens Illinois … Halliburton I believe too,” Maloney responded.
“Other general supporters of tort reform in TX would be AMA, doctors groups, hospitals,” Maloney wrote.
TRMPAC contribution reports do not list donations from these companies. An organization of nursing home providers, the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, was TRMPAC’s largest contributor at $100,000.
Maloney did not return several calls seeking comment.
A Sept. 9, 2002, TRMPAC trip listed donation-seeking visits for fundraiser Susan Lilly and a state GOP representative, Beverly Woolley.
In an interview, Lilly said of the notations next to the names of prospective donors, “These were my personal notes. It was just my personal knowledge of what a person likes or dislikes. They were notes I took at the meeting,” she said.
“37 other states have it,” she wrote next to Charles Hurwitz, the racetrack owner seeking video gambling whose company made a TRMPAC donation soon after the meeting.
A note next to the top executive of Alabama-based Compass Bank read, “Want to clear up home equity lending.” Another notation said “22 K direct.”
Four days after the meeting, Compass Bank’s political action committee made $22,000 in contributions of $1,000 each to candidates in 22 Texas House races, according to an analysis by the Texas Observer newspaper.
Eight months after the fundraising visit, the Texas Legislature approved a constitutional amendment to allow home equity loans on lines of credit for the first time in the state. Voters ratified the amendment and Compass quickly marketed the loans.
The House ethics committee, in admonishing DeLay last year, particularly objected to a May 30, 2002, memo written by Maloney. The lobbyist organized DeLay’s golf fundraising event, and formerly was a DeLay staff aide on energy matters.
He listed the specific goals of golf fundraiser attendees Reliant Energy, based in Houston; Williams Companies, Tulsa, Okla.; Mirant Corp., Atlanta; El Paso Corp., Houston, and Westar, Topeka, Kan.
Some three months after the memo, Reliant contributed $25,000 to TRMPAC, according to a database compiled by a state watchdog group, Texans for Public Justice.
In Maloney’s memo seeking contributors with asbestos problems, the ex-DeLay staff member wrote, “I finally have the 2 checks from Reliant. Will deliver to TD next week.”
On the Net:
Related documents are available at: