Tom DeLay thought he could screw the law but the law screwed back

In 1990, while running the political programs division for the National Association of Realtors, I met with a brash Republican Congressman from Texas – an up and comer named Rep. Tom DeLay.

DeLay had three items on his agenda:

1—Secure more political action committee money for Republican candidates and members of Congress. He felt business PACs like ours which was, at the time, the largest PAC in town, were being entirely too generous with Democrats;

2—Get more Republicans hired by associations, lobbying firms and political action groups;

3—Con us into inviting him to speak at our upcoming annual convention in Hawaii and make sure the invite included his family and time for a week or so of golf after the convention.

I’d been warned about DeLay. He was, my colleagues in the PAC business said, overtly pushy in a town known for pushy politicians.

They weren’t wrong.

“I see you give most of your money to Democrats,” DeLay said. “Why?”

I explained the Democrats on our contribution list controlled Congress and the committee chairmanships and, for the most part, voted right on our issues.

“That’s bullshit,” DeLay said. “You’re a business PAC and we’re the party of business. You should remember that. The Democrats won’t always control Congress.”

I reminded him that Republicans voted against the real estate industry in the 1986 tax reform act.

“If you want more Republican votes let’s see some more money for Republicans,” he said. “That’s how the game works.”  I said I would put the matter before our PAC board but added that we paid for performance, not promises.

“That,” DeLay said, “will change.”

We moved on to the hiring of Republicans.

“How many Republicans do you have on your staff?”

“Beats me,” I replied. “I don’t ask their party affiliation.”

“Why not?”

“Because this is the private sector Mr. DeLay. It’s illegal to ask political affiliation and even more illegal to use that affiliation as criteria for hiring.”

“Fuck the law,” Delay snapped back. “I don’t give a rat’s ass about the law.”

I remember that conversation vividly and kept notes on the meeting to report back to Stephen Driesler, my boss and chief lobbyist for the Realtors.

“Yeah, that’s Tom DeLay all right,” Driesler said. “You’d better be careful about pissing him off. He’s one of (future speaker of the house) Newt Gingrich’s shining stars and will be a powerhouse if the Republicans ever gain control of the House.  And he doesn’t mind cutting a few corners.”

Tom DeLay became a powerhouse, an arrogant bully who would later use his post as Majority Leader of the Republican-controlled Congress to hammer other GOP members into submission. But DeLay’s loss of power is one of the more watched and applauded falls from grace in the growing scandals that wash over Washington like a sea of sewage.

Gingrich, who gave up the Speaker’s job and left Congress after getting caught screwing a young Agriculture Committee staffer, may have put it best about when he said this about the Republicans he brought to town: “They came to do good and stayed to do well.”

In the end, Washington has a way of biting the powerful in the ass.

Tom DeLay thought he could screw the law but, in the end, it’s the law he so easily ignored that is giving him an old-fashioned screwing he so richly deserves.