Texan Starts New Charity

Posted November 12, 2003 at 6:57pm

With the Republican National Convention still nearly 10 months away, a new nonprofit organization set up by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) is already planning to use the occasion to stage several big fundraising events at next year’s gathering in New York City.

For a donation of $500,000 to the new charity, called Celebrations for Children, Inc., donors will get private dinners with DeLay before and after the convention, tee times at a prestigious golf course on Long Island, VIP tickets to Broadway shows, a yacht cruise, invitations to a late-night concert, and access to a luxury hospitality suite on the night that President Bush is expected to receive his party’s nomination for a second term. Donations to the organization, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group, are partially tax deductible.

DeLay, of course, is not the only lawmaker planning charity events at next year’s conventions, although his initiative seems to be the most ambitious. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) so far is asking for up to $250,000 from potential sponsors for a VIP reception and concert at Rockefeller Center benefiting AIDS treatment groups the night before Bush’s acceptance speech. That event is expected to include dozens of Republican Senators.

The Republican convention is scheduled to run from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2, and DeLay has already proposed anchoring a huge cruise liner in New York harbor as an exclusive floating hotel for lawmakers, lobbyists and selected guests during the convention, although many New York officials have objected to the plan, saying it would cost the city significant convention-related revenue.

“It is almost certainly not illegal,” said Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity, DeLay’s newest organization. “It just looks a little strange to have a children’s charity raising money at a national political convention.”

Lewis added: “This is not the only way special interests could get close to Tom DeLay. This is just slightly more creative.”

At the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, DeLay used various political committees to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in now banned “soft money” to entertain lawmakers, donors and guests.

Celebrations for Children plans to net at least $1 million or more during the Big Apple convention, even after footing the bill for its events.

Some of these proceeds will be steered to local charities and the rest will go to the DeLay Foundation, an existing charity for foster children that DeLay set up several years ago.

Danielle DeLay Ferro, the Majority Leader’s daughter, campaign manager and a political adviser to the 10-term lawmaker, will serve as one of several directors of the new non-profit, which was established in mid-September. In recent years, Ferro has earned several hundred thousand dollars doing work for her father and political entities under his control or with which he is affiliated.

Craig Richardson, who does fundraising for DeLay’s re-election committee, and Rob Jennings, a Republican political operative, are also directors. The board of the group includes several specialists in helping needy children, as well as a Sugar Land, Texas, businessman who does charity work. Sugar Land is DeLay’s hometown.

The new organization, like the DeLay Foundation, will not release the name of its donors, and is not required to do so by law, according to Richardson.

Richardson also said the group will stage events during Super Bowl week in January. The Super Bowl is being played at Reliant Stadium in Houston next year.

“I think the important principle is we’re trying to raise money to help needy, neglected and abused children,” said Richardson, who has worked for DeLay since 1995. “Tom DeLay has a 10-year history of giving money to those kids who need it.”

DeLay’s office declined to comment on the creation of the new organization and its scheduled activities.

DeLay pushed through a change in House rules last year that ended a ban on free trips and lodging at charity events for Members, and the DeLay Foundation exploited the change in April when it hosted a big fundraiser at an exclusive golf resort in Key Largo, Florida. That event reportedly raised more than $1 million from lobbyists, trade associations and corporations.

Celebrations for Children is described in its brochure as a “non-profit organization dedicated to raising money through galas and other events, identifying worthy children’s charities, and distributing the net proceeds to those deemed worthy by CfC and its board.”

Celebrations for Children, which been vetted and cleared by the House ethics committee, will hold three events during the convention, with Tom DeLay and his wife Christine appearing as guests of honor at each.

Other members of the New York Republican Congressional delegation have also been invited to be “co-guests of honor” at the organization’s events and have apparently agreed, including Empire State Reps. Vito Fossella and John Sweeney.

The organization’s first event, on August 30, will be a golf tournament at the Bethpage Black Course on Long Island, home to the men’s U.S. Open golf tournament in 2002 and 2009.

The following night, Celebrations for Children will host a late-night party at the Hammerstein Ballroom, located just a half-block from Madison Square Garden, the convention site. “This is a ticket not to be missed,” boasts the organization’s brochure, which also claimed it will “top” similar concerts in 2000.

Celebrations for Children will host a “luxury hospitality suite” at the Grand Ballroom in the Manhattan Studio Center, which also is home to the Hammerstein ballroom. The brochure said the suite is for “Members, Senators, Executive Branch and CfC sponsors” and is open “before, during and after” Bush’s speech.

The group has given catchy nicknames to the different sponsor levels. $500,000 donors will be dubbed the “Upper East Side,” while $250,000 donors are the “Upper West Side,” $100,000 givers are “Central Park,” $50,000 gets you to “Midtown,” Soho is reserved for $25,000, and $10,000 is “Greenwich Village.”

Members and staff will be allowed to attend events free of charge.

House ethics rules allow Members to be honorees at events under certain circumstances. “As long as the identity of the sponsor (that is, the person that is organizing and paying for the event) is made clear to all participants (e.g., on the invitations), an event nominally ‘in honor of’ a Member or group of Members is not generally considered a gift to the honoree(s),” states the House ethics manual.