A few days ago, The Washington Post front-paged a story linking House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX), Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) to $56,500 in campaign contributions made in 2002 from a Kansas-based energy company, Westar. One executive of Westar emailed his colleagues that “we have a plan for participation to get a seat at the table” of the House-Senate conference committee on the Bush administration’s energy plan. “The total of the package will be $31,500 in hard money (individual), and $25,000 in soft money (corporate)” and included “$11,500 in immediate needs for a group of candidates associated with Tom DeLay, Billy Tauzin, Joe Barton and Senator Richard Shelby.”
Given that the Bush-backed bill was doling out more than $27 billion in targeted tax breaks to energy companies, this was not an unusual investment. Westar was seeking relief from regulatory oversight that would have allowed it to transfer $3 billion in debt off its balance sheets and, potentially, onto the monthly bills of consumers through rate hikes. The Westar exec’s email went on to say that Rep. DeLay’s “agreement is necessary before the House Conferees can push the language we have in place in the House bill.” And so 13 Westar officials paid $31,500 to the candidates they were told to support and the company gave $25,000 to Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, a committee closely tied to DeLay. Rep. Barton put the company’s exemption into the law, with Reps. DeLay, Tauzin and Barton all voting to keep it there when Democrats tried to strip it out. Later it was withdrawn after a grand jury started investigating the company for securities fraud.
Rep. DeLay’s office has insisted that there was no quid pro quo between Westar’s donations and the exemption. “When people contribute to Delay or causes he supports, they are supporting his agenda, we are not supporting theirs,” a spokesman insists. He admits that DeLay met with Westar officials last year, but asserts, “We have no control over any fantasies they might have about what they might get for a campaign contribution.”
Hmmm. Let’s see. America’s businessmen are the smartest in the world, DeLay no doubt believes, but they’re dupes when it comes to investing $56,500 of their hard-earned dollars on some leading Congressmen?
It might be possible to believe DeLay’s denials if this weren’t part of a pattern of behavior. But consider this history:
- On April 3, 2001, the Associated Press reported that DeLay was making recorded calls to small business owners, promising them meetings with top Bush officials where they could voice their opinions on issues like tax reform in exchange a $20,000 contribution to join his “Business Advisory Council.” It is against the law for elected officials to promise favors for political donations.
- DeLay is not stranger to the other side of the game either. On May 14, 1996, Edwin Lupberger, then the CEO of Entergy Corp., wrote DeLay a letter to thank him for meeting with him during a dinner for Republican “Team 100” donors—people who gave or raised over $100,000 for the Republican Party—and discussing pending legislation. “There is an issue before Congress of significant importance to our company and industry—repeal of the Public Utility Holding Act of 1935,” Lupberger wrote. He urged DeLay to push the relevant committee chairmen to act on repealing the act. Over the summer, Entergy gave $20,000 in soft money to the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In September, DeLay went to the floor of the House to push the law’s repeal.
- In October 2001, DeLay added a provision to anti-terrorism legislation that would have prevented foreign governments from recouping billions from tobacco companies in lost revenues and damages. Public Citizen reports that a political committee he controls (known as a “527” organization) took in $131,500 from tobacco interests in the year prior to that.
- In the fall of 2002, Congress passed legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security that included several special interest provisions roundly attacked by many lawmakers. (See OUCH#107 for more details.) These included limits on legal liabilities for companies that produce vaccines (a sop to pharmaceutical maker Eli Lilly), a boondoggle for Texas A&M University, and a provision undoing an amendment sponsored by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) that would have barred companies using offshore tax havens from getting homeland security contracts. The leaders of the Senate promised to take up corrective legislation removing these provisions, but DeLay only said he would “consider” allowing the House to vote on such changes. This January, Congress removed the Lilly provision. But DeLay’s tough line worked. Congress eviscerated the Wellstone rule, and special liability protections for airport screening companies have been retained as well.
- DeLay’s rise in politics was fueled by Enron. The rogue company hosted the first fundraiser for his leadership PAC, raising $280,000 for him at the event. And DeLay fought hard for the company’s agenda of regulatory relief. Not only did Enron reward Delay with $32,700 over his years in Congress (making him its #8 top beneficiary overall), it gave two of his top aides a $750,000 consulting contract and paid his wife Christine $40,000 for a no-show job.
“If you want to play in our revolution, you have to live by our rules,” DeLay tells lobbyists. He has two lists of the 400 largest PACs, those who he deems friendly and those he deems unfriendly. “We’re just following the old adage of punish your enemies and reward your friends,” DeLay says. He once told Congress Daily, “Money is not the root of all evil in politics. In fact, money is the lifeblood of politics.” Clearly, money is Tom Delay’s lifeblood. Maybe, if the Justice Department can be moved to investigate this latest Delay scandal, it could be his downfall as well.
OUCH! is a regular e-mail bulletin on how private money in politics hurts average citizens, published by Public Campaign, a non-partisan, non-profit organization devoted to comprehensive campaign finance reform. Every day, we pay more as consumers and taxpayers for special interest subsidies and boondoggles because of our system of privately financed elections. It's time for a change.
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