DeLay Cancels Events in NYC

Posted May 18, 2004 at 6:46pm

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has dropped plans to raise money for his charitable foundation during the GOP convention this summer after public interest groups accused him of using the fundraisers to sell access to exclusive convention events to corporate lobbyists and wealthy Republicans.

“It has become clear that New York City around the time of the Republican convention has become too expensive,” said Gary Lewi, a spokesman for the DeLay charity, Celebrations for Children. “As a result, we will not hold New York events at this time.”

Another Republican who works with the charity added: “We’re not doing anything wrong, but [the negative publicity] detracts from the convention and the charity.”

Ironically, DeLay’s decision to call off the fundraisers came on the same day that the House ethics committee revealed that it has cleared House Members to raise money for charitable organizations during the Democratic National Convention in July and the GOP convention a month later.

“We want Members to be involved in charity fundraising [so] we have decided that we will not look at changes this year,” Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), chairman of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, said Tuesday. “If they can do it in the context of the ethics rules, we want them to do it.”

However, Hefley said the ethics panel is still looking at “a variety of options” that could limit the ability of House Members to raise money for charities beginning next year.

One option under consideration would track Senate regulations by allowing House Members to raise money for charities, but preventing them from asking for funds directly from corporate lobbyists.

DeLay and the Republican officials who run Celebrations for Children canceled several events that promised to raise $1 million or more for abused and foster children in part because they worried that the ethics panel would block Members from raising money for charities during the conventions. The decision only affects convention-related events. DeLay plans to continue raising money for Celebrations for Children elsewhere.

Executives at the charity began informing donors of the decision on Tuesday. DeLay is slated to announce the change in plans later this week.

Republican fundraisers and lobbyists who are close to the Majority Leader still plan to tee up a golf tournament on Long Island’s prestigious Bethpage Black Golf Course on the convention’s opening day and a private concert the following night at Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom.

But in order to comply with new campaign finance regulations, DeLay will not pay for the events out of his pocket and will not be directly involved with planning the golf tournament or the concert.

Instead, those events will be organized by DeLay allies and will be paid for by contributions from corporations.

The only major difference is that the children’s charity will not be the beneficiary of the events.

DeLay created Celebrations for Children, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, last year to raise money for several charitable foundations during the Republican convention.

The charitable foundation is “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,” according to a brochure.

Celebrations for Children has not yet received tax-exempt status, though it applied with the Internal Revenue Service eight months ago.

DeLay hoped the organization would raise money for several New York-area charities and the DeLay Foundation, a charity for foster children that DeLay set up years ago.

But DeLay’s plans quickly came under fire from several watchdog groups who charged that DeLay was employing the charity to get around new prohibitions on raising and spending large amounts of soft money.

In a letter to the IRS late last year, Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said that DeLay is using the nation’s charity laws and the “pretext of helping children as a cynical cover to raise and spend huge amounts of prohibited soft money to finance political activities and provide political benefits for himself and his Republican colleagues.”

Wertheimer called Celebrations for Children a “scandalous attempt to misuse IRS tax exemptions and a brazen scheme for circumventing the new ban on soft money.”

Others complained it was selling access.

In exchange for a $500,000 contribution, for instance, donors were invited to dine with DeLay before and after the convention, golf on Long Island, attend Broadway shows, enjoy a yacht cruise, attend a late-night concert and have access to a luxury suite on the night President Bush will be nominated for a second term.

Unlike several other charities that Members of Congress plan to raise money for during the conventions, DeLay’s Celebrations for Children is closely tied to the Texas Republican.

Several members of the charity’s board of directors are DeLay allies, including his daughter, Dani DeLay Ferro, and a number of his political fundraisers, such as Barbara Bonfiglio, Rob Jennings and Craig Richardson.

DeLay becomes the second Member of Congress to ditch plans to hold a charitable fundraising event at the conventions.

Earlier this month, AFLAC canceled a planned fundraiser at the Democratic convention for a program that benefits children with cancer after Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) pulled out of the event.

Tickets to the “Rockin’ on the Dock of the Bay” party at Boston’s Roxy nightclub were priced as high as $100,000 for corporations, trade associations and individuals.

Meanwhile, several other Members of Congress are moving forward with their plans to hold charitable fundraisers during the conventions, including Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).

During the GOP convention, Frist is hosting an event to benefit several AIDS groups while Chambliss plans on helping to raise money for Camp Sunshine, an Atlanta-based charity that helps children with cancer.

“I lent my name to this because it’s a good cause and it’s the right thing to do,” Chambliss said. “If there’s an ethics problem with this, then there’s an ethics problem with virtually everything we do in Washington.”