DeLay Troubles Bolster Critics

Posted October 21, 2005 at 6:45pm

The latest legal troubles for Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) are proving to be a fundraising boon for Democrats who are seeking to bring down the former Majority Leader.

Even as DeLay made his first court appearance in Austin, Texas, Friday to face felony money laundering and conspiracy charges, Tom McMahon, executive director of the Democratic National Committee, was circulating an e-mail with DeLay’s mug shot seeking $340,000 from donors. DeLay was booked, photographed and processed on Thursday by the Harris County, Texas, sheriff. He was later released on $10,000 bail.

“Tom DeLay is just the tip of the iceberg,” McMahon wrote in the e-mail. “You can send a message that you’re fed up with him and the entire Republican culture of corruption — let’s show that ordinary people contributing whatever they can afford can double the most notorious money-for-influence machine in politics.”

McMahon was referring to a $190,000 hard money-soft money swap in September 2002 between Texans for Republican Majority PAC, a political action committee created by DeLay, and an arm of the Republican National Committee. Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle alleges the transaction was an illegal attempt to circumvent Texas’ election law, and he obtained indictments against DeLay and two political allies, Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, with money laundering and conspiracy to violate the state election code. DeLay, Ellis and Colyandro have all denied the charges.

Josh Earnest, the DNC’s press secretary, said the committee reached the anti-DeLay e-mail’s fundraising goal of $340,000 by late Friday with contributions from more than 8,000 donors.

House Democrats have long invoked DeLay to juice party fundraising, but they have stepped up their efforts since his criminal indictment and subsequent resignation from the Majority Leader post earlier this month. Party officials say it’s too early to tell how much of a fundraising bump Democrats are getting from DeLay’s legal difficulties.

“He’s always been a great fundraising tool for us,” said Sarah Feinberg, communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

DCCC e-mails to donors often feature warnings about “DeLay Inc.,” the name they use to describe DeLay’s alliance on K Street and with outside groups, and the “culture of corruption” that they charge surrounds both the GOP Congressional leadership and the senior White House officials who are now being investigated for allegedly leaking a former CIA operative’s name.

Public Campaign Action Fund, a liberal activist group, has taken in at least $20,000 in donations since his indictment thanks to fundraising pitches featuring DeLay, said David Donnelly, head of the organization.

PCAF is now running TV ads blasting Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and DeLay for a series of financial transactions between leadership PACs that they control (see related story p. 1). The group also operates the “Daily DeLay,” a Web site dedicated to “exposing Tom DeLay as the most corrupt politician in Washington.”

DeLay’s mug shot is now available online, with one site, www.cafepress.com, selling a T-shirt featuring a smiling DeLay for $15.99, and a mug with a similar picture going for $12.99.

But one group that DeLay’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, had accused of cashing in on the DeLay case denied any involvement in memorabilia sales.

In making the argument for removing Travis County District Judge Bob Perkins from the case, DeGuerin told the court that MoveOn.org — which received a $200 donation from Perkins in September 2004 — was selling T-shirts with DeLay’s face.

MoveOn.org later released a statement denying that it was selling T-shirts. “We’re not surprised that DeLay and his lawyer Dick DeGuerin are making things up. DeGuerin has either bad information or lied in court,” said Tom Mattzie, Washington director of MoveOn.org.

MoveOn.org, however, does say on its Web site that it’s raised $132,000 for its PAC to run anti-DeLay ads that aired earlier this year. MoveOn.org also circulated a petition, signed by more than 480,000 people, to “Fire Tom DeLay.” That petition was later sent to House GOP lawmakers.

Perkins has also donated nearly $5,000 to Democratic candidates since 2000.

The recusal motion will be heard by a state administrative judge, B.B. Schraub, who has given more than $6,000 to GOP candidates.

DeLay made clear Friday that he will fight the charges aggressively. When he walked out of court on Friday, he immediately held a press conference, where he repeated his argument that the indictments against him were a smear job by Earle and that they were orchestrated by national Democratic leaders.

“You may be surprised to hear me say this, but I find this to be a good day,” DeLay told reporters on the courthouse steps. “Today I was provided the opportunity to go before the court and refute these baseless charges that are the result of a political vendetta being acted out by Ronnie Earle.”

DeLay has filed a barrage of legal motions in addition to his recusal request for Perkins.

He wants any trial moved out of Austin, a city well known as one of Texas’ most liberal bastions, and he is seeking a quick resolution of the case, despite the fact the Ellis and Colyandro have been fighting related indictments for more than a year.

In addition, DeLay is seeking to have the indictments thrown out on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, an allegation that Earle dismissed as untrue. Earle has countered with subpoenas for DeLay’s home telephone records, as well as those of his daughter, who is also DeLay’s campaign manager and a consultant to his federal leadership PAC, Americans for a Republican Majority.

It is unclear when Schraub will take up DeLay’s recusal motion, although sources close to the Texas Republican said it could be resolved by the end of October.

DeLay hopes to return to his Majority Leader post, but numerous House Republicans and their aides have stated that, realistically, he has only until January to clear his name. If no resolution of the case occurs by then, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) will likely be forced to call leadership elections to replace him.

After his brief court appearance in Austin, DeLay planned to return to his Houston-area district for the weekend, and his staff said he would proceed with business as usual when he returned to Washington this week.

DeLay still attends leadership meetings as an adviser to Hastert, and he consults with committee chairmen on their plans. He sits on no committees, but his spokesman, Kevin Madden, said DeLay still has a full schedule, despite the loss of his leadership perch.

“He proceeds pretty much through his normal course of business here,” said Madden. “His emphasis is always on the agenda. He often seeks to assure people that he will take this problem — that Ronnie Earle’s charges are flimsy and will get thrown and we have to stick to our agenda.”