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Legal Costs Will Remain Challenge for DeLay

When he first rose to national prominence in the mid-1990s, DeLay had little in the way of savings. A disclosure form detailing his personal finances at the end of 1997 showed that, other than his personal residence, DeLay had only $60,000 to $150,000 in holdings, the lion’s share of it in Exxon Inc. stock.

Seven years later, DeLay held $80,000 to $200,000 in assets, split between Exxon stock and accounts with Wells Fargo and Charles Schwab, according to his 2004 disclosure form. However, at that time, DeLay was a net debtor, having already accumulated legal bills running from $125,000 to $260,000.

In addition to his home in Sugar Land, Texas, where he intends to retire, DeLay owns a condominium in Alexandria, Va., and for the time being he will need to retain the condo because he needs to use that as his new permanent residence in order to get his name off the Texas Congressional ballot in November.

An estimate from the National Taxpayers Union found that, at most, DeLay could expect $56,000 a year from his pension for almost 22 years of Congressional service. However, it is unclear if he immediately can begin receiving his full pension or wait three years until he turns 62.

As Roll Call reported in February, DeLay began earlier this year to dip into his campaign account to defray some of the costs related to the Abramoff probe. In mid-February, while still preparing for a re-election battle that he thought would cost close to $10 million, DeLay’s campaign was sitting on $1.3 million.

It’s unclear how much of that money was spent in beating back several challengers in the March 7 primary, or to what level the campaign fund was replenished in the final weeks of March.

Any leftover campaign funds could now be used to pay his legal bills, the course followed by ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) after his recent resignation and by ex-Sen. Bob Torricelli (D-N.J.) after he bowed out of his re-election amid ethics allegations in 2002.

But DeLay — who prided himself on creating a “team” attitude in the GOP Conference that involved giving contributions to colleagues, candidates and party committees — may feel peer pressure to turn over a large chunk of that cash to lawmakers or the National Republican Congressional Committee, as is allowed under the law.

In the two months before his GOP primary, DeLay was on the receiving end of a financial outpouring from his colleagues, taking in almost $100,000 from the campaign accounts of fellow House Republicans, their political action committees and their relatives, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Even if DeLay decides to use a substantial chunk of his campaign committee’s cash to pay for lawyers, it’s unclear whether that will be enough to cover the mounting costs.

After his campaign paid $110,000 in February to McGuire Woods, home to Richard Cullen, the lawyer handling the Abramoff matter, DeLay’s legal payments topped $1 million since July 2004, according to records with the House and the FEC.

But his bills have only soared since and will continue to do so, particularly once the Texas trial approaches and commences, and the team of lawyers working on the Abramoff investigation continue to bill hours at a high rate.

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