DeLay Fundraising Group Fined, Shut Down
NOAH ADAMS, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.
In a few minutes your letters, but first money and politics. The standing of embattled former House Speaker Tom DeLay suffered another blow this week. His fundraising committee was fined and agreed to shut its doors. The Federal Election Commission levied these penalties after an audit found numerous instances of improper financial reporting. NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams joins us from Washington, as he does every Friday. Welcome back, Juan.
JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:
Good day, Noah.
ADAMS: What's the nature of these particular campaign finance allegations?
WILLIAMS: Well, what was found was that there was no proper reporting on contributions of more than $300,000 to this PAC, the Americans for a Republican Majority. It's a group that nearly every Republican on Capitol Hill got money from and it's the basis for Tom DeLay's power.
I mean, as the listeners tune in they might think, well, gee, that sounds like sort of inside baseball Washington politics. But you've got to understand, it was the basis on which Tom DeLay became a towering figure in the U.S. Congress and just dominated Republican politics.
It even extends to Texas. There was a similar group - in fact the Americans for a Republican Majority started it. They provided the seed money, if you will, for Texans for a Republican Majority, which is at the center of their own scandal in Texas.
But the finding here is that the group didn't properly report money, didn't properly handle disbursements of the monies it had and didn't properly report on the cash it had on hand, Noah.
ADAMS: How big an operation would the Americans for a Republican Majority be actually? How big, how involved, how powerful is this group?
WILLIAMS: Oh, my gosh. There's no end to the lines of power. I mean, this is the way that Tom DeLay was able to hold people in line. I mean, I think back to Lyndon Johnson, who when he was in the Senate made an art of, in fact, delivering money to people in a way of keeping them in his pocket. And Tom DeLay mastered that in the modern sense, in this modern era, through this Americans for a Republican Majority.
ADAMS: Turning to another matter now, the Washington Post has a story about Mike Leavitt. He's the Bush administration's Secretary of Health and Human Services. Lots of money in a family charitable foundation. What's gone awry there?
WILLIAMS: Well, the idea that you have the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt, and his relatives claiming millions in tax deductions for this charity really, I think, stands out to people. It ends up on the front page of the Washington Post today, because it turns out that charity gave out so little money, less than one percent of its holdings in 2002, 2003 and 2004. It went up a little bit last year as their amount of money coming into the charity increased.
But basically the money was being funneled into family businesses and even for genealogical research on the Leavitt family. And some of it went even to loans to various companies and people in the Leavitt family, interest free loans, Noah. So that what you see is it was used less for giving money to people in need than for enriching the Leavitt family.
Now, was it illegal? Apparently it's not illegal under the current structure. But it's one that the IRS Commissioner Mark Everson has recently described as a charity that was really a personal piggy bank for Leavitt and his family.
ADAMS: You said less than one percent. What would be the normal, the respectable amount that you would give out?
WILLIAMS: Oh, normally they would be giving 5 to 10 percent.
ADAMS: Another matter, Republican political wizard, manipulator, professional Ralph Reed. He wanted to be the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in the state of Georgia. What happened in Georgia?
WILLIAMS: Well, he lost, and he lost - it's very interesting though - he lost by more than 12 points to a very, I would say, unknown man, a state senator Casey Cagle, in a race that really was about the fact that Ralph Reed had ties to Jack Abramoff.
And as you know, Jack Abramoff, the famous mega-lobbyist here in Washington, is already in trouble. Some of his aides have pled guilty to trying to influence members of Congress. And so Ralph Reed - who rose to fame because of his tremendous influence in working with DeLay and the Christian Coalition to build a Republican majority in the Congress - himself can't win a simple seat to be the number two man in the state of Georgia, lieutenant governor.
And I think it's an indication, less that the Democrats claim of a culture of corruption on the Republicans side is taking hold as an election issue, than it is that if you were personally involved with Jack Abramoff, you are going to be punished by the voters at the polls. Because obviously Ralph Reed is a very charismatic, good looking and successful man, but even in the solidly Republican suburbs of Atlanta he couldn't win against someone who had no stature, no comparable stature to his own.
ADAMS: With a Friday Washington Review, NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. Thank you, Juan.
WILLIAMS: You're very welcome, Noah.
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