March 24, 2004
Escalation on another DeLay front

Byron points to this WaPo article in which watchdog groups call for a House ethics investigation of another Tom DeLay moneymaking machine, in this case one masquerading as a charitable organization.

Democracy 21 contends that the charity, Celebrations for Children Inc., is a political scheme established to let DeLay raise huge sums from interest groups and supporters to host lavish parties at this summer's Republican National Convention.

DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella said at least three-fourths of the charity's income will go to needy children, with the remainder paying for dinners, a golf tournament, a rock concert, Broadway tickets and the other fundraising events DeLay plans to host at the convention in New York City.

House ethics committee rules prohibit investigations based solely on an outside group's complaint. But a complaint is deemed to be lodged if any House member forwards an outsider's allegations with a letter saying the information is filed in good faith and warrants a review.

Democracy 21's action is meant to put each House member on the spot -- either challenge DeLay's operation or silently condone it -- said the group's president, veteran open-government advocate Fred Wertheimer.

Wertheimer's group had complained about Celebrations for Children in a Jan. 28 letter to the ethics panel, formally called the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. "There is no public information, however, indicating that the Ethics Committee is pursuing this matter," says Wertheimer's latest letter to the panel.

Yesterday, he sent a copy to all 434 House members (one seat is vacant), saying, in part, "If just one House member is willing to act to defend the institutional integrity of the House, the Ethics Committee will be forced to proceed with an inquiry."

House rules prohibit behavior by members or staffers that fails to "reflect creditably" on the House. Federal laws governing tax-exempt charities allow no more than an insubstantial portion of a group's revenue to be spent on activities other than the charity's main stated purpose.

Celebrations for Children fails both tests, alleges Wertheimer's complaint.

"Tax-exempt charitable organizations are not supposed to be used as political playthings by Members of Congress," his letter says. "The DeLay scheme will allow House members to attend, free of charge, such events as Broadway shows, golfing tournaments, yacht cruises, dinners, parties and other events, with the events being paid for by a 'charitable' organization and funded by big donors to the 'charity,' many of whom are likely to have important interests pending in Congress."

Here is Democracy 21's press release, which appears to be a followup to this statement decrying the lack of such an investigation as yet. The formal complaint is here (PDF). I've blogged on Celebrations for Children and the complaints surrounding it before (see here and here).

Shockingly, there are straws in the wind that DeLay might step down from his leadership position, as reported by Roll Call:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has begun quiet discussions with a handful of colleagues about the possibility that he will have to step down from his leadership post temporarily if he is indicted by a Texas grand jury investigating alleged campaign finance abuses.

...Republican Conference rules state that a member of the elected leadership who has been indicted on a felony carrying a penalty of at least two years in prison must temporarily step down from the post.

Could it be that DeLay really fears the TAB/TRM investigations in Austin? The ferocious response from the GOP here, ranging from a blizzard of open record requests to a petition to move the Public Integrity Unit to the Attorney General's office, suggest they feel the need to be vigilant. I still never thought DeLay would blink, though. On the other hand, he's smart enough to know that grand juries often deliver for prosecutors, and he ought to have a Plan B in hand. So this is probably just pragmatism and not trepidation.

The possible implications are staggering. For sure, a big cog in the GOP's fundraising machine would be gummed up. DeLay might even find himself in some electoral trouble, though it'd probably take a conviction to really do him in. Of course, if he's forced to drop out of the race, would the GOP be able to field a backup candidate? I can't quite figure out what the state law has to say. Whatever the case, you can of course give a hand to Richard Morrison, who will hopefully get a boost from all this.

Wow. Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 24, 2004 to Scandalized! | TrackBack

Kevin Drum picked the Delay story too, and there are a whole bunch of folks in the comments hoping like crazy (not a troll in the bunch, yet, which may say something about how DeLay's viewed even by them. Or it could be they've had a hard day and gone to bed, of course, what with that Clarke guy talking).

Posted by: Linkmeister on March 25, 2004 1:14 AM