Lobbyists’ Credit Cards Funded DeLay Junket

A plane trip to London and Scotland in 2000 by scandal-ridden House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was charged to a credit card issued to a Washington lobbyist currently under federal investigation.

This emerging scandal is the latest showing DeLay’s ties to lobbyists, foreign trips funded by outside groups and use of campaign funds, and increases political pressure on the Texas congressman.

The holder of the American Express credit card was Jack Abramoff, who at the time was employed by the lobbying firm Preston Gates & Ellis, according to two sources who know his credit card account number, and documented by a copy of a travel invoice.

Other expenses from the same trip such as food, phone calls and other items were billed to a different credit card used by a second registered Washington lobbyist, Edwin Buckham, according to receipts documenting that part of the trip.

The report raises questions about how much DeLay, who was then-House Majority Whip, knew or did not know of the financial and logistic arrangements provided by registered lobbyists.

Under House ethics rules, lawmakers are prohibited from accepting the payment of trips and related expenses from registered lobbyists.

DeLay has denied wrongdoing in connection with other recent questions about travel, lobbyist and campaign funding issues.

He has also been criticized for denouncing judges who refused to intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo, who was in a persistent vegetative state, after a court ordered her feeding tube removed.

Last year he was admonished by a House ethics committee on three separate matters involving what critics say were strong-arm political tactics.

“As the majority leader has always said, he believed at the time and continues to believe the trip to the U.K. was funded by the National Center For Public Policy Research,” DeLay’s attorney, Bobby Burchfield, told Reuters.

Burchfield said DeLay’s staff was aware that Preston Gates was attempting to set up meetings and hotels for the trip.

DeLay’s former chief of staff, Susan Hirschmann, confirmed that his congressional office was in direct contact with Preston Gates about the trip itinerary before his departure from Dulles International Airport to London in May 2000.

But Burchfield said: “There is no evidence whatsoever that the majority leader or his staff knew of the logistics of how the funding was occurring at the time.

“That is not inconsistent with what the National Center has said all along, which is, it funded the trip.”

Abramoff was a board member of the National Center for Public Policy Research, Burchfield said.

The nonprofit group used donations made by an Indian tribe and a gambling services company that covered most of the expenses declared by participants.

The group opposed the Internet gambling bill pending before the House and DeLay’s attorney repeated on Sunday that his vote against the bill was unrelated to the payments.

A copy of the invoice shows that the itinerary for DeLay’s trip was prepared by a travel service in Seattle and was sent to Preston Gates on May 23, 2000, for business class tickets on Continental Airlines and British Airways that cost $6,938.70.