Monday, January 31, 2005

DeLay's private speech on Social Security was turning point

RE: Bush/DeLay Privatization Plan

The Washington Post "discovered" a 104-page campaign blueprint left behind in West Virginia after the Republican House members met in private with President Bush last week. The blueprint outlined how privatization supporters would attempt to shift the debate on Social Security to more favorable territory.

Following the congressional retreat, House Republicans are more optimistic about taking the issue forward, and those in attendance singled out Tom DeLay's speech as the turning point:

Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who as majority whip is the House's chief vote counter, said that during the retreat, members went "from being cautious to being cautiously optimistic" about passing Social Security legislation this year. He acknowledged that in taking on an issue that has been a strength of Democrats for generations, the GOP is "way out there beyond our defenses."

"We realize that almost everything has to go right to get this done," Blunt said. "This is such a hard thing to do that it wouldn't take much for us to not be able to do it. We absolutely couldn't even consider it if we didn't have the president's total commitment to do everything he can do to lead this debate."

Lawmakers said a turning point came Friday when House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who has been leery of taking on Social Security, argued that the caucus had a "moral obligation" to do so.

During the three-day gathering at the Greenbrier resort, Republicans resolved to devote hundreds of town meetings and PowerPoint presentations to Social Security in their states and districts.


Coming to a town near you, soon. Let's be ready.



Saturday, January 29, 2005

DeLay signals no backing down on Bush/DeLay Privatization Plan

From the Washington Post:

Worried about the possible peril to narrow GOP majorities in the House and Senate, Republican lawmakers have hesitated to embrace Bush's call for adding individual stock and bond accounts to the government's nearly 70-year-old retirement system. But House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, who told the White House only a month ago that he preferred to tackle the tax code instead, went before a party retreat Friday morning and said the lawmakers had a "moral obligation" to take on the politically risky issue.

"First and foremost on the agenda is, and must be, a comprehensive package to strengthen retirement security for all generations," DeLay said in remarks that were closed to reporters but described by attendees. "This opportunity for reform may not come again, and we have a moral obligation to seize it."

[...]

DeLay, with Capitol Police officers guarding the doors, acknowledged that some of the coming votes would be hard but spoke of an "appointment with history" and said, "We cannot control how long we serve, only how well." (emphasis added)

Friday, January 28, 2005

All together now...


"The Bush/DeLay Social Security Privatization Plan."

That's what their Social Security proposal ought to be called. Majority Leader Tom DeLay had been backing away from taking this on a few weeks ago. Now it appears he thinks, based on polling, that they should move ahead. Okay, let's go.

From the Washington Times:

But House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said Democrats have foolishly staked out their opposition to Social Security reform before they even know what Republicans are going to propose.

"Our polls already show that people realize there is a problem — something the Democrats don't quite get — and they want a solution," Mr. DeLay said.

It's not foolish, regardless of party identification, to oppose the wrong solution that will make a future problem worse. Moreover, DeLay is wrong: the plan does has some specifics. And lots of analysts say the Bush/DeLay Privatization Plan results in a reduction in guaranteed Social Security benefits, puts the future benefits at the whim of the stock market, and gives tremendous rewards to one of the largest sources of cash for political campaigns, Wall Street. Like the Medicare bill's boondoggle contracts for HMOs and insurance companies, if the Bush/DeLay Privatization Plan is adopted, politically-connected Wall Street firms (i.e., those that gave millions in campaign contributions) will get the contracts to provide and administer private accounts, and then reap billions in transaction fees.

UPDATE: A reader just sent me a link to this September 22, 2004 Washington Post article, which starts out with the payback in cold hard figures:

President Bush's push to create individual investment accounts in the Social Security system would hand financial services firms a windfall totaling $940 billion over 75 years, according to a University of Chicago study to be released today.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Bob Perry, TRMPAC, DeLay

When I visited Houston recently, the Perry Homes signs were everywhere. Bob Perry runs Perry Homes, which is among the state's largest homebuilders at $420 million in revenues in 2002. Perry is also widely known as the man who funded the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads that are credited in some quarters with thwarting John Kerry's presidential bid.

Perry is a long-time conservative political giver. According to Texans for Public Justice, he was the largest 2002 giver to Tom DeLay's TRMPAC at $165,000.

Monday, a report by Campaigns for People and released by a coalition of Texas groups singles him out as the financial force behind Texas laws that benefit homebuilders and destroy the American dream of home ownership.

Taken together, Perry's $6.9 million to state candidates over the last two cycles, and his gift to elect lawmakers sympathetic to DeLay's redistricting agenda (all GOP), is a one-two punch that adds up to favorable laws enacted on his behalf. This ought to be illegal.

This begs the question: How much can those who are struggling to scrape together a downpayment on a $80,000 or $100,000 home afford to give to politicians? Not much. But affordable housing is a critical issue in all of Houston, and particularly in DeLay's suburban district. Politicians turn a deaf ear to these constituents at their own peril. Perhaps that's why Houston Mayor Bill White just announced an affordable housing program to foreclose on tax deliquent properties, convert them to affordable housing in order to stem the gentrification that forces low income workers out of the city so far from where their jobs are in downtown Houston. (Thanks to Off the Kuff for the link.) It's an issue ACORN in Houston has been working to address, though I don't know what their take is on White's proposal.

We'll be following additional DeLay/Perry links, including the $284,300 he gave to federal candidates, political action committees, and national political parties since the 2000 election cycle. Yes, there is $10,000 to Delay's ARMPAC, the national model for TRMPAC.

More focus on Ronnie Earle

The AP runs a profile of Travis County DA Ronnie Earle's fight, including this quote from Earle himself:

"I think that democracy is at stake," said the 62-year-old Earle, who has been D.A. since 1977. "The issue is whether large corporate interests can buy more democracy. If large monied interests can control elections, then the principle of `one person, one vote' is meaningless."

Couldn't agree more.

Look for more news on Earle. He is the subject of a 60 Minutes story in development.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Paved paradise, put up a parking lot

What does $5,000 to Tom DeLay's legal defense fund and thousands more to Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) get you?

$500,000 for a parking lot. The Lexington Herald-Leader does some enterprising reporting, and they get this:

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers put $500,000 in this year's federal budget to build a parking lot for a private resort on Lake Cumberland that is owned by one of his campaign contributors.

[...]

The [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] oversees most projects at Lake Cumberland, which the federal government created in 1952, but it usually does not use public funds to improve private businesses, said Tom Hale, the corps' operations manager at Lake Cumberland.

However, he is working with [marina owner J.D.] Hamilton on designs for a hilltop lot to provide more than 200 parking spaces.

"The corps did not ask for it (the money). This is something that Hal Rogers put in there," Hale said.

Later, he added: "I'm sure all of the other (marina) operators on the lake would love to have something of that nature if they could get it."

Of course, an explanation:

Hamilton said he approached Rogers last year to complain about insufficient parking at his resort. At the peak of tourism season, in the summer, visitors often park on the roadside leading to the resort, he said.

The next thing he knew, the $388 billion federal appropriations bill, signed by President Bush on Dec. 8, had money earmarked for just that purpose, he said.

"That's the American system," Hamilton said.

"But this project stands on its own," he said. "I don't think everyone who gives a political donation gets a favor. I honestly think that if someone came here from China and had a deal for Hal Rogers that would benefit his constituents, Hal would help him."

Rogers was not available for personal comment yesterday, an aide said in Washington. He returned to work yesterday after his annual trip to Hawaii to attend a seminar sponsored by the American Association of Airport Executives. On the appropriations panel, Rogers has a say on funding for transportation and homeland security.

In a written statement, Rogers said the new parking lot is part of his larger strategy to boost the tourism economy around Lake Cumberland.


I've always thought that parking lots boosted tourism. Right.

NPR Profiles Travis County DA Ronnie Earle

Monday's profile of the man investigating Tom DeLay.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Postcards from Austin

This is the Texas State Capitol building, otherwise known as the scene of the crime.



During the height of the redistricting battle in 2003, Tom DeLay, the Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, visited the State Capitol building above and shuttled back and forth between the key players to broker a deal that gave him five more Republicans in his congressional majority. DeLay-inspired TRMPAC had spent heavily to elect supportive lawmakers.

Like the congressional beneficiaries of DeLay’s largesse, these lawmakers in Texas owed him.

This is the Travis County District Attorney's office and County Jail, where District Attorney Ronnie Earle works.



Earle is investigating the corporate money TRMPAC raised and has indicted eight corporations and three individuals (each of whom has a relationship with DeLay). The investigation is on-going.

This is the Travis County Court House, where the indicted individuals have been formally charged and arraigned for violating campaign finance laws.



Look for Earle to be in the news more. Three of DeLay's associates have been arraigned here after being indicted for illegal corporate fundraising. Are we going to see anything beyond arraignments here? With bigger fish? Time will tell.

Friday, January 14, 2005

More from DeLay-Land, Day Two

Yesterday I met with Ginny Goldman, the lead organizer for ACORN in Houston. ACORN is an organization of low and middle income families working for economic justice in 70 cities around the country. In Houston, ACORN has taken on the issue of affordable housing. ACORN is also known for getting their members active in political campaigns and in running for office, and that's why politicians pay attention to ACORN, whether they want to or not.

I spent the afternoon meeting with two former elected officials, Chris Bell and Mark White. Congressman Chris Bell, whose fight against DeLay's ethics last year occupies the first two paragraphs in Mike Crowley's wide-ranging cover story in the current New Republic, is readjusting to being out of office (he was redistricted out), setting up a new law office, and, as has been reported, considering a run for governor in 2006. He maintains that American voters are paying more attention to ethics now, and the pendulum swing is heading the right direction. I share his frustration that this theory is either not one House Democrats subscribe to, or that they are simply too paralyzed by their own perceived vulnerabilities to engage the issue. It's disappointing, but for people like Bell, it's leadership vaccuum they can try to fill.

Mark White served as Governor of Texas fom 1983 to 1987. He keeps a somewhat low profile -- he doesn't appear at all to be a man driven by desire for spotlight or credit. Anyone who spends time around former, current, or future politicians will understand how unique that is. Mark and I met in a quiet hotel bar to discuss our DeLay work, the state of the Democrats, and what happened in 2004. Like Bell, he sees the same trends -- that voters are ready to reject unethical big money politics and embrace common sense solutions. He bemoaned a lack of gumption in today's Democratic leaders. One non-DeLay-related example: A few weeks back, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld was asked by a Tennessee national reservist about armor for vehicles in Iraq, and Rumsfeld gave a callous reply that we fight with the army we have not the army we want. White thought Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee should have jumped on a plane to Washington immediately and knocked on the front door of the White House insisting that Bush and Rumsfeld apologize and fix the situation. He's right.

He is also right on another national issue with major money in politics connections: credit cards. I have been thinking awhile about the need to take on some of the most egregious practices of banks and card distributors, which are allowed because Congress just doesn't crack down on them. This is an issue Mark urged me to explore and take on. The number of families and college kids with mounting, stifling personal debt is astounding. These companies are crippling the American dream, and Congress and state legislatures prefer the industry's campaign contributions to the political fight it would take to protect consumers from the rapacious card companies.

Last night I drove the three hours to Austin. It's cold here -- 30 degrees this morning, or so. I'm tired, but energized by the people I am meeting, and the conversations. I met this morning with Nathan Wilcox, a web consultant in Austin with lots of political ties. I'm having lunch with people from Democracy for Texas and meeting with reform organizations at Texans for Public Justice later. (Unfortunately, a meeting scheduled for this morning with The Hammer author, Lou DuBose, was cancelled due to a family matter that took him out of town. There is no particular reason to mention this, just wanted to plug his book again!)

More about my Austin visits later. I fly out tonight in order to get home for my daughter Carson's fifth birthday party.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Report from DeLay Land

Report from the ground in Houston, day one:

Led by organizer Richard Haas, I got an incredible tour of Tom DeLay’s district and met some great people last night. One thing that struck me driving back to my hotel from Sugar Land last night: Richard set up meetings with doers, not just talkers. The people I met with last night know how many door-hangers and phone calls were made in last year’s election because they made the calls and walked the blocks themselves.

Here are approximately 40 of them at the Bay Area New Democrats monthly meeting last night:



They had great stories about last year’s race DeLay-Morrison race (there were two other candidates in the mix, who together received about 4%), including how they helped force DeLay to attend a candidate’s debate in Clear Lake put on by a local school’s debate club. Many of these BAND club members (which is not affiliated with the Democratic Party, or with national “New Democrats”) are employees of NASA, now represented by DeLay. My hats are off to them for their continuing hard work, especially to Yolanda Coroy, Karl Silverman, and John Cobarruvias who took extra time to talk over dinner.

We went from there to Sugar Land, Tom DeLay’s hometown, to meet with Don Bankston of the Fort Bend Democrats, another club, and Carrie (I can’t read my handwriting on your last name, sorry!) of the Fort Bend Teachers Union. Charles Kuffner of the influential Off the Kuff blog, trekked out from Houston to meet and share insights.

Don and Charles recalled precinct and county data from 2004 back to 1994 to demonstrate the changing voting trends of the district. Fort Bend County, or at least the lionshare of it that is represented by DeLay, performed less well for DeLay than the rest of the district, 52.5% for the county versus 55.2% overall. And, Don continued to point out, Sugar Land, the major city in the county, is his hometown.

Charles has down some clear-minded thinking and analysis of Republican drop off votes -- those who voted for Bush but not for DeLay. He sees this as a growth area, particularly in Fort Bend, and in 2006 with a different top-of-the-ticket race.

Carrie shared a burning issue for teachers here, the wrongly-named “Social Security windfall,” which basically treats teachers as second class citizens by telling them they need to choose between their pensions and Social Security benefits. Teachers, of course, pay Social Security taxes like the rest of us and are entitled to the benefits. DeLay has stopped fixing this. The Fort Bend Teachers Union has grown by about a quarter over the last year or so, and, in a right-to-work, anti-union state, represents 1,250 teachers. That’s an accomplishment.

We met across the street from the spectacle of the Sugar Land City Hall, which is an immense structure complete with night-lights galore, fountains and statues of horses out front. The picture below is a little fuzzy, but take my word for it: it’s a sight more worthy of a museum or college library, than the city hall of Tom DeLay’s hometown.



Earlier in the day Richard Haas and I spent an hour or so with Richard Shaw, the secretary-treasurer of the Harris County AFL-CIO and with Keir Murray, an up-and-coming consultant in Houston with his own business, KLM Consulting and blog, Houtopia.com. This is a tough town for labor, Shaw acknowledged. But there’s some new excitement, and hopefully that will build. The hotel workers international, HERE, just successfully organized their first hotel in Houston, and did so by engaging local organizations in community outreach.

Murray is absolutely convinced that DeLay is vulnerable and suggested the need to build a local organization or network of individuals and organizations, all connected via a new website, to help drive and coordinate actions against DeLay and his policies, as well as to serve as information source for local activists and journalists. It’s a good idea, and I’m going to think about it some more.

This morning, I met with a dynamic, smart lead organizer for ACORN, Ginny Goldman. I will report on that meeting and the other ones I have later with former member of Congress Chris Bell and former Governor Mark White. I am running out of time, and if you have read all this, I’m sure you are, too.

Just a few last thoughts to sum this all up: There is palpable energy in these people. They’ve been represented by Tom DeLay for two decades now, and they are, for the first time, getting a taste of both his vulnerability and their power to exploit it. That wasn’t the case before 2004. This sense of optimism isn’t clouded by out-of-touch fantasy. It’s born of doing the work and seeing the positive results and studying the numbers in the district. They need a strategic outlet for this passion. That’s what we gotta figure out.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Two Companies Are Cooperating and More Could Follow Soon...

The Los Angeles Times released a story today entitled "Deals Reached in Texas Political Donation Inquiry." The Times reports that two of the companies accused of making the illegal political contributions, Sears Roebuck, Co. and DCS Inc., have "flipped" and are now cooperating with Travis County investigators. Both companies said that:
"...the contributions were given 'on the basis of false and misleading information provided by the fundraiser that solicited the contribution.'"

The story's source was quoted as saying that deals are in the works for some of the remaining six companies who were also indicted last year.

It is becoming more and more evident that the case against those indicted, and those not yet indicted, is mounting. Prosecutors are getting closer and closer to those higher up on the political food chain.
"The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said information gleaned from the companies could be used as leverage to pressure remaining defendants and, potentially, to target more powerful members of the Republican Party in Texas and in Washington.

"Prosecutors and grand juries in Travis County, which includes Austin, the capital, for two years have been conducting a criminal investigation of organizations run by Republican activists. At least one of the groups has ties to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Republican from Sugar Land, southwest of Houston."

Prosecutors in Travis County are building a case, with the newly found cooperation of some of the corporations, to press those already indicted to turn on those who gave them their marching orders probably in exchange for leniency.
"One legal source with knowledge of the investigation said the agreements with the companies could help target 'big fish' in the Republican Party by persuading the three DeLay aides to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for leniency or dismissal of their cases. The aides face 10-year prison sentences if convicted.

'If you are looking at 10 … years in jail, are you going to take the hit for Tom DeLay?' the source asked."

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Black Tie and Boots celebration for Westar and DeLay

Via Jonathan Salant of Bloomberg (thanks to a loyal reader for the tip), from a story about Inaugural parties:

General Electric Co., which spent more money to lobby Congress and the Bush administration during the first half of 2004 than any other corporation, has invited lawmakers to watch the inaugural parade from its office overlooking the route. Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp., which is backing Bush's proposal to open an Alaskan refuge to oil drilling, wrote a $250,000 check to help pay for the festivities. The company gave another $50,000 to the Texas State Society for its Black Tie and Boots Ball, where Bush and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay are on the guest list.

[...]

One of the hottest tickets is the Black Tie and Boots Ball, put on by the state society of Bush's native Texas. The first was held in 1981, when another Texan, George H.W. Bush, the current president's father, was sworn in as vice president.

This year's event occupies two floors of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington. Even the pool has been covered to increase the floor space available for 10,000 guests.


(One housekeeping detail: Bush and DeLay are not on the "guest" list -- they are being honored.)

The host committee of donors ponying up $10,000-and-up reads like a regular ol' who's who of corporate America and influence peddlers. Until you get to this name:

Westar, the Topeka, Kansas-based discredited energy company implicated in what all but amounts to a bribery scandal last year by a Washington Post investigative piece.

In fact, Public Citizen has just asked the Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the matter. You can read all the sordid details here.

But that's not all. Westar is also one of the eight corporations indicted in the DeLay-related TRMPAC investigation into illegal corporate campaign funds beign laundered into 2002 state races in Texas. Two of the corporations, Sears Roebuck and Diversified Collections, have already turned state's witness and have agreed to cooperate.

But that's not all. Westar executives were among those playing golf with Tom DeLay in the infamous outing for which DeLay was rebuked for creating the appearance of conflict of interest. The Ethics information is ALL here. The memos from Westar lobbyist Doug Lawrence laying out exactly how to spread money around, and why, are eye-opening.

But that's not all. Westar has had legal troubles of its own. Former Westar CEO David Wittig and Executive Vice President Douglas T. Lake may face a second trial for as many as 40 counts of alleged conspiracy,wire fraud, and other violations. Their first trial ended in a mistrial when the jury couldn't reach a verdict. A second trial date has been set.

So... why is Westar still making $10,000 soft money gifts? And why would the Inaugural Committe accept this money?

Texas-bound, to listen and pick up advice.

Weather permitting, I am going to Houston tomorrow to meet with activists and political leaders regarding our past, present, and future DeLay-related work. I'll be there tomorrow and Thursday, and ten drive up to Austin for meetings on Friday. I'll post my initial reactions to what I hear and see while there each day, so come back and read, comment, etc.

In Houston, I am excited about meeting with grassroots activists in DeLay's district and elsewhere in Houston, and with leaders from the growing Asian community and labor. Houston is not a labor town by any stretch, which makes their recent breakthrough hotel organizing drive notable. I often find the best advice comes from those on the ground, so I will be doing a lot of listening.

I will also meet a few bloggers and visit with a few political leaders.

Once in Austin, I am looking forward to meeting Lou DuBose, a journalist who co-wrote The Hammer with Jan Reid, the only book I know dedicated solely to understanding and explaining Tom DeLay. I also will see people from a variety of organizations, many at a meeting hosted by old friend and rabble-rouser, Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice.

Lest you go through Daily DeLay withdrawal, I will attempt to post at least once a day on how the meetings have gone, what I hear, and what interesting things I find along the way. To that end, I am bringing a camera -- I will take some pictures to help liven up the travelogue.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Novak on DeLay's future. Kinda.

Bob Novak begins addressing a post-DeLay Congress. Can't imagine the race to replace DeLay is already on, but the handicapping apparently has already begun:

Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, who was voted out of the House Republican leadership six years ago, is now the odds-on favorite to be the next majority leader if Rep. Tom DeLay is forced to resign.

On another note, we are pleased to announce that The Daily DeLay has been nominated for a Sandy Koufax Award for the Best Single Subject blog. It is an honor to be listed among the other nominees. Go check out the list, and cast a vote in the comments there. For us (we'd appreciate it!), or any other one you like (there are lots of deserving blogs).

UPDATE: Many have asked how to vote for the Daily DeLay or other blogs at the Koufax awards. It is relatively easy, if you know where to go: Click on the link above. Scroll down through all the nominees (look at some other nominees while you're there!) and all the comments. Fill in the form at the bottom with your vote.

The folks who run the awards pay for their own site and hosting costs, which grows as more people cast their votes. If you think they are doing a good service in lifting up and recognizing progressive voices on the web, make a donation here.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Is there a charitable reading of this?

In the wake of last week's tragedy in Asia and the on-going assistance being offered to those who have suffered so greatly, Tom DeLay spoke these words from Matthew 7:21-27 at a Congressional Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday:


A reading of the Gospel, in Matthew 7:21 through 27.

Not every one who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven; but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?"

Then I will declare to them solemnly, "I never knew you: depart from me, you evil doers."

Everyone who listens to these words of mine, and acts on them, will be like a wise man, who built his house on a rock:

The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and buffeted the house, but it did not collapse; it has been set solidly on rock.

And everyone who listens to these words of mine, but does not act on them, will be like a fool who built his house on sand:

The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and buffeted the house, and it collapsed and was completely ruined.



And then he sat down.

I have been thinking about this since I first saw it posted by Atrios. DeLay is a shrewd politician. Why would he say this?

What do you make of this? Is there a more charitable interpretation of it than what I immediately feel, which is appalled at the use of this scripture and imagery at this moment? I will be consulting with those who know more than I about various Biblical interpretations, but I am curious about your thoughts.

Please, serious and respectful posts only.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Conason on DeLay, ethics

Good caution here in a N.Y. Observer piece by Joe Conason. An excerpt:

Perhaps it is churlish to mock the Republicans for reversing their original bad decision, no matter how mindless and submissive they seemed while doing so. Encouraging news about Congressional ethics is exceptionally rare. So is a victory for independent citizen action against arrogant authority.

What the latest rules reversal proves is that while Mr. DeLay may be crude, he certainly isn’t stupid. Blistered by criticism from editorial boards and nonpartisan groups, the Republican boss realized that he and his members are now vulnerable to the same moral arguments they once used to oust the Democrats from power. That danger was emphasized by a coalition of eight citizen organizations, ranging from Judicial Watch on the right to Public Campaign on the left, which gave voice to public outrage. Suddenly, as angry e-mails poured into their offices, the people’s elected representatives understood that voting to weaken ethics rules on the first day of the 109th Congress wouldn’t look so good.

Of course, an improvement in perception doesn’t necessarily indicate any change of character. And there is certainly more than one way to "reform" the system so that the House leadership can accept legalized bribes, strong-arm votes and misuse public agencies without fear of punishment. The easiest way to stop any high-minded meddling by ethical party-poopers is to
rig the committee that is supposed to enforce the rules.


A fourth reason

Below Rick posted my oped from the Houston Chronicle in which I listed three reasons why DeLay retracted the DeLay Rule.

Let's not be Pollyannas. The Chron, on the editorial page, gave a fourth reason:

One would like to think DeLay urged the rule rollback because of a newfound reverence for ethics in government. However, he also told the Monday night confab of party leaders that he is confident that he will not be charged in the Travis County probe. The grand jury probing illegal corporate contributions has already indicted three DeLay associates. GOP legislators in Austin are reportedly pushing proposals to remove the authority to prosecute campaign finance violations from county district attorneys and vest it in the state attorney general. That would shift the the investigation from Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican. Another proposal circulating in Austin would simply decriminalize the corporate contributions that spawned the current investigation. Perhaps DeLay and his supporters are betting they can solve his problems back in Texas rather than under the intense spotlight of the Washington media.

Now that Republican leaders are at least paying lip service to ethics in Washington, their counterparts in Austin should renounce efforts to rewrite Texas law to protect DeLay and let the Travis County grand jury complete its investigation without political impediments.


This a real possibility. DeLay always will try to leave himself an out. We need to stay vigilant.

Houston Chronicle Runs Donnelly Op-Ed!

Today, the Houston Chronicle ran an Op-Ed submitted by fellow DailyDelay blogger David Donnelly. The piece sums up the three key turning points that caused the GOP to backtrack and reverse the DeLay Rule (Full text is below). Click here to add your name to our email list to keep abreast of breaking new on the DeLay scandal.
Houston Chronicle
Jan. 5, 2005

Proof Tom DeLay is now politically radioactive?
Negative opinion may have caught up with powerbroker
By DAVID DONNELLY

Monday's stunning reversal by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and the Republicans in Congress on the so-called DeLay Rule caught all by surprise, including those of us in the midst of the effort to hold politicians accountable for these types of actions.

But it shouldn't have. There are three reasons why DeLay caved on the provision, which was enacted by the House Republican conference back in mid-November and was designed to protect him if he gets indicted for his role in the on-going investigation into corporate fund-raising in Texas politics: constituent anger; a measurable rebellion among House members that emboldened House Democrats; and the growing sense that DeLay is becoming politically radioactive.

But first some background. Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has been conducting an investigation into possibly illegal corporate campaign fund-raising in the 2002 elections by a DeLay-created political action committee known as TRMPAC. Eight corporations and three individuals have already been indicted by a grand jury for their role. All three individuals have strong ties to DeLay, making DeLay's potential indictment a matter of great speculation.

Already two of the eight corporations, including Sears Roebuck & Co., have recently turned state's witness.

The corporate fund-raising led to a Republican majority in the Texas Legislature that was willing and eager to pass DeLay's unprecedented plan to re-redistrict congressional lines in Texas, skewing them toward electing more GOP members of Congress. And that is what happened. DeLay returned to Congress after the November elections with five extra GOP members from Texas.

These new House members meant an expanded GOP majority in Congress. That majority expressed its immediate gratitude toward DeLay by rewriting its rules in a secret, Republicans-only vote, to allow members of party leadership to maintain their positions even if indicted. The rule quickly was named in honor of its main beneficiary, and that, in part, became its undoing.

Faced with citizen pressure from all over the country, DeLay blinked. The first reason he did was that members of Congress were hearing from constituents that they didn't like the DeLay Rule. One member of Congress, Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., summed it up in two words: Constituents reacted.

Fueled by bloggers, enterprising journalists and public interest groups, thousands of constituents called members of Congress throughout November and December to ask where they stood on the DeLay Rule vote. The issue wasn't going away.

The second reason DeLay & Co. backtracked was that they simply didn't have the votes to win on the floor of the House. While the DeLay Rule only applied to Republicans, Democrats smelled an opportunity and were preparing a straight up-or-down vote on whether House rules would allow any member of Congress to maintain a position in leadership after being indicted. That vote was to have happened Tuesday, the day after DeLay proposed revoking his rule.

I'm convinced that the Democrats wouldn't have pushed for this vote if it weren't for the prospects of winning. A blog I run, the Daily DeLay, tracked responses from members of Congress from constituents' inquiries and news reports and built the only comprehensive and public record of where members stood on the matter. In the end, 23 Republican members of Congress went on record as having voted against the DeLay Rule and 10 to 12 more said they missed the vote but would have opposed it if they were there, or were given another chance. Outgoing House Ethics Chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colo., issued a timely statement saying he was siding with the Democrats. The potential of cleaving off 20-30 Republicans emboldened the Democratic minority, which pressed to take the issue to the floor. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, DeLay retreated in defeat.

Lastly, DeLay's capitulation in the face of pressure signals his increasingly negative public image, and the rising wariness moderate Republicans and those in competitive districts have about being too closely associated with him. In short, in the past DeLay's ability to raise big money was an unqualified plus. Now it is becoming more of an ethical albatross. In the words of Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., "I feel like we have just taken a shower."

I, for one, am not sure just a shower is needed. Members of Congress leave office on their own accord, or they are forced out by events or voters. With corruption and ethical scandals swirling around DeLay and all he touches, he received just 55 percent of the vote in his district, his lowest total ever. It is just a matter of time before we find out which end is in store for Tom DeLay and his brand of big money politics.

Donnelly is political director of the Public Campaign Action Fund, a nonprofit organization that works on comprehensive campaign finance reform and on holding politicians accountable. He writes the Daily DeLay blog online at http://dailydelay.blogspot.com.

More on GOP ethics changes

Carl Hulse gets a front-page placement in the New York Times again with his coverage of the GOP ethics moves. Here are some excerpts:

House Republicans pushed through a significant change in the handling of ethics complaints over strong Democratic objections Tuesday as the 109th Congress convened with a burst of pomp and partisanship.

The House, on a vote of 220 to 195, enacted a change that would effectively dismiss a complaint in the event of a deadlock in the ethics committee, which is equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. Its approval came after a retreat by Republicans on Monday on other proposed ethics revisions.

At the heart of both actions were calculations about how far Republicans should go to protect the House majority leader, Representative Tom DeLay. Many party members were unhappy with the ethics committee for the three admonishments it delivered to Mr. DeLay last year.

At the same time, some Republicans were uncomfortable retaining a party rule adopted in November that was intended to shield Mr. DeLay from having to step down from his leadership post if he was indicted in a campaign finance investigation in Texas. Republicans said the new approach to handling a deadlock on the ethics panel would protect lawmakers from purely partisan attacks.

[...]

Republican lawmakers and senior aides said rising unease among rank-and-file Republicans over last November's rule change, which would have allowed party leaders to hold their post even if indicted, led Mr. DeLay to ask for its reversal.

The lawmakers and other officials said many House members were struggling with second thoughts after voting to protect Mr. DeLay, spurred by criticism from constituents. Several said they were ready to reject the ethics rules package as a potential major embarrassment on a day when Republicans hoped to showcase their continuing majority.


Tuesday, January 04, 2005

What the House did yesterday and today

I have gotten a lot of email about how far Republicans in the House went in backtracking, so I wanted to clarify what they did and what they didn't do.

Most of the attention last night and today centered on Tom DeLay's stunning defeat when he was forced to reverse the DeLay Rule. We should be proud of the role we played in making that happen.

In addition, yesterday the GOP leadership withdrew several major components of their proposed ethics rules. The initial proposal would have drastically loosened the ethics guidelines for members of Congress and made it almost impossible to launch any ethics investigations. However, the GOP maintained a few significant pieces of the proposal -- including one that requires a majority vote of an evenly split committee (five Democrats, five Republicans) to begin an investigation. This change was adopted today on a straight party vote, 220-195.

Public Campaign Action Fund, as part of the Congressional Ethics Coalition, opposed this provision because it will, in effect, halt virtually all investigations. We, along with the seven other members of the coalition, issued a
statement in opposition.

So, yes, the Republicans did in fact weaken ethics rules today. And tomorrow, or next week, they will likely strip Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO) of his chairmanship, replacing him with DeLay loyalist Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). None of this is good. But we did succeed in making this entire debate about their ethics and willingness to bend the rules for one person, and we were able to defeat DeLay on the DeLay Rule, a major embarassment. For that, we should declare victory even as we cast this leadership as one that will continue to overreach on all matters of big money, corruption, and ethics.

You Won, DeLay Blinked: Post your comments!

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Morning round-up on DeLay Rule reversal

Lots of newspapers front-page the DeLay Rule Reversal, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and DeLay's hometown Houston Chronicle. Here are key excerpts from those papers and more:

NY Times:

Mr. DeLay's action came as a surprise. Aides said he and J. Dennis Hastert, the House speaker, who commended Mr. DeLay for his action, conferred on the plan briefly before the closed session.

Lawmakers said it was unclear whether the Republican leadership had the votes to force through a package of ethics revisions, and some commended Mr. DeLay for his effort to spare lawmakers a difficult vote.

Washington Post:

Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) said during a break in the meeting that the "indictment rule" was restored in part because of complaints that members had heard back home.

"Constituents reacted," he said. "We're blessed with a leadership that listens."

Aides said DeLay made the decision quite a while ago that he would propose changing the rule on indictments back to the previous version, saying that he could see Democrats would continue using the change as a basis for personal attacks. The aides said DeLay did not want to put Republicans through it, and wanted to deny Democrats the opening.

At their own private meeting, Democrats added a rule requiring party leaders to step down if they are indicted. Democrats planned to try to embarrass Republicans by proposing such a rule in the full House today.


LA Times:

DeLay "did a lot of thinking over the Christmas recess" and decided that the rule change was taking attention away from the GOP legislative agenda, [spokesman Jonathan] Grella said.

(Think he liked the ad?)

Houston Chronicle:

Acknowledging that a Texas political corruption case and recent ethics investigations have become a distraction to his party's goals, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land on Monday asked colleagues to undo party rule changes that would allow him to keep his powerful leadership post if he is indicted.

Boston Globe (welcome to Washington, Rick):

House Republican leaders last night abruptly abandoned plans to loosen some ethics regulations for members and reinstated a requirement that indicted members step down from leadership posts.


Monday, January 03, 2005

Statement on DeLay Rule Reversal

Public Campaign Action Fund released the following statement tonight on the GOP Congressional majority's actions in reversing the DeLay Rule and abandoning their proposal to weaken ethics guidelines:

House Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay reversed themselves on the DeLay Rule after months of outraged citizens calling and emailing their members of Congress. This retreat signals a victory by average citizens who forced their members of Congress to feel the heat for a secret vote held behind closed doors.

Yet we mustn’t forget why the Delay Rule was proposed and passed by the Republican caucus in the first place. It was an effort to protect Tom Delay from a criminal investigation into his role in an allegedly illegal corporate fundraising scheme. With news that the Texas legislature may be considering a bill that would remove the Travis County District Attorney from the case and place cases like this under the jurisdiction of the Texas Attorney General, we must remain vigilant.

Hastert, DeLay & Co. may have removed a political issue from the table for the time being, but the arrogance and potential legal liability unfortunately still remains.

Citizens win.

GOP reverses course on both the weakening of rules changes and the DeLay Rule, according to Associated Press.

Statement soon.

Ethics Chair Hefley (R-CO) supports overturning DeLay Rule

Now outgoing Chair of the Ethics Committee Joel Hefley (R-CO) just came out with the Democrats and said he'd support overturning the DeLay Rule tomorrow. Hefley just sealed his fate with the leadership, but he could have just provided the kind of cover the rest of the Shays' Handful (listed below) needed to overturn it.

Charles F Bass NH-2
Jeb Bradley NH-1
Michael N Castle DE
Elton Gallegly CA-24
J D Hayworth AZ-5
Kenny C Hulshof MO-9
Nancy L Johnson CT-5
Mark Steven Kirk IL-10
Ray LaHood IL-18
Steven C LaTourette OH-14
Tom Latham IA-4
James A Leach IA-2
Jim Nussle IA-1
Todd Russell Platts PA-19
Jim Ramstad MN-3
Paul Ryan WI-1
Christopher Shays CT-4
Rob Simmons CT-2
Pat Tiberi OH-12
Zach Wamp TN-3
Heather Wilson NM-1
Frank R Wolf VA-10

Let's see if these members stand up on a roll call, and if the others who were vocal about their opposition, even though they weren't there to cast a vote (like Gutknecht from MN) will join the Dems. Any guesses of Dems who cross? Gotta doubt that, but who knows?

Here's a good column

If you live in the Tampa-St. Pete area, write a letter to the editor of the Tampa Tribune and praise this column by Daniel Ruth. Among other things, Ruth writes:

For determining DeLay, the Palmetto Bug of the Beltway, was an ethically challenged schmo, not only will Hefley probably lose his post but the ethics committee also will be effectively gelded from doing its work - all to protect the keister of one House member.

Uh, doesn't changing the House rules to save DeLay's oily hold on power perversely suggest this twerp may be the Chemical Ali of campaign contribution?

As well, if you are going to start punishing people serving on an ethics committee for finding ethical fault with House members who commit - ALTOGETHER NOW! - ethics violations, well, what's the point of maintaining the charade that anyone in power in the House cares about ethics?


How do you really feel, Mr. Ruth?

Eight organizations hold press conference denouncing ethics changes

Eight organizations, forming what is called the Congressional Ethics Coalition, held a press conference today to denounce the proposed weakening of ethics rules. Here are the organizations with links to their statements:

Campaign Legal Center
Center for Reponsive Politics
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (PDF)
Common Cause (PDF)
Democracy 21
Judicial Watch
Public Campaign Action Fund
Public Citizen

Developments

There have been four developing story lines over the past week or so:

1) Sears Roebuck & Co. turning state's witness in the DeLay-related corporate fundraising investigation.

I linked to the Houston Chronicle article in the post below. There is not much more to discuss on this one: Sears has the goods on one or more of the three indicted associates of DeLay, or on someone else. Travis County DA Ronnie Earle is slowly, methodically building a case.

2) DeLay Hastert & Co. signalling that they are going to dump House Ethics Committee Chair Joel Hefley (R-CO) for basically being too even-handed.

The Daily Camera (Boulder, CO) (registration) has a good editorial. So does the Denver Post, including a mention of a possible replacement for Hefley:

Sources said Hastert is leaning toward replacing Hefley with Rep. Lamar Smith, another Texan who already has cut a check to DeLay's defense fund. Sound like someone willing to lock horns with DeLay?

3) Rule Committee David Dreier (R-CA) is leading an effort to eviscerate ethics rules.

The Associated Press described the ethics changes thusly:

The proposal being circulated among House Republicans would end a general rule against any behavior that might bring "discredit" on the chamber, according to House Republican and Democratic leadership aides. House members would be held to a narrower standard of behavior in keeping with the law, the House's rules and its ethics guidelines.

Note that they leaked this on New Year's Eve, just in time to party. And with no major press scrutiny.

4) Congressional Democrats are pushing for a full House vote on overturning the DeLay Rule, and probably some other ethics-related matters.

Wait and see on this one. Public Campaign Action Fund is calling for a recorded vote and for all members to vote to
overturn the DeLay Rule with an e-advocacy campaign. Take part now!

History

Always good to look back at history.

"All of us, all of us, every member, should be held to the highest of standards. And this speaker -- I -- and any other member should not be held to a double standard."
— Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), January 21, 1993

[Thanks to Blog for America.]

Public Citizen calls on Justice to investigate DeLay/Westar connection

Here is one item worth reading more about, since DeLay has already been rebuked by the House Ethics Committee for his relationship to scandal-plagued Westar Energy:

Public Citizen called on the Justice Department to investigate the case on possible bribery charges. From the 12/29/04 release:

In a letter to Noel Hillman, chief of the Justice Department's criminal division, Public Citizen wrote that substantial evidence, especially newly-released documents from a House ethics committee investigation, suggests a possible scheme using campaign contributions to buy political favors worth millions of dollars to Westar Energy and its executives.

Besides the Westar executives, Public Citizen alleged that DeLay, [Rep. Joe] Barton, who is the current chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and [former Rep. Billy] Tauzin, who was the former chairman of the committee but now is head of the drug industry's trade association, possibly provided legislative favors in exchange for campaign contributions in violation of the federal "Bribery of Public Officials and Witnesses" statute.

Lots of activity today... stay tuned.

The first Monday of the New Year is starting with a bang... I am working on a few posts with lots of updates, news stories, reports from a press conference by seven groups (including Public Campaign/Public Campaign Action Fund) calling on Congress to clean up its act, etc. etc. etc.

In the meantime, contact your member of Congress and ask them to overturn the DeLay Rule. Looks like the Democrats are offering up a measure for a floor vote.

Stay tuned...