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Advocacy Group Links Abramoff, DeLay

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Advocacy Group Links Abramoff, DeLay

Politics

Advocacy Group Links Abramoff, DeLay

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

On Saturday, Jeffrey Smith reported a story in The Washington Post with the headline The DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail. It was all about a public advocacy group called the US Family Network. Citing that group's tax documents and some of its former associates, The Post story showed that the donors to the US Family Network were clients of Jack Abramoff, and the group spent the money in ways that benefited the former House majority leader and his aides. Jeffrey Smith joins us.

And first, Jeffrey Smith, how much money are we talking about, and who gave it to the US Family Network?

Mr. JEFFREY SMITH (The Washington Post): We're talking about a total of about $2 1/2 million in revenue collected by this group over its five-year existence. And of that total, virtually all of it came from Jack Abramoff's clients. $500,000 was given by the Republican National Party, but the rest was given by Abramoff's clients for the most part.

SIEGEL: Now his clients included, first of all--this is familiar from other stories--the Choctaw band, Mississippi Indian tribe that had a casino...

Mr. SMITH: Yes, exactly. Yeah.

SIEGEL: ...and a Russian oil company.

Mr. SMITH: Well, this is the interesting part of the story. It's a little mysterious still. I mean, this--it was a million-dollar grant given to this group by a London law firm, which is now defunct but was formerly associated with people close to Abramoff as well as to Abramoff's clients. And the former partners in the firm won't say exactly where the money came from, but we know that they had some dealings with Russians, who were also involving in planning a DeLay trip to Moscow in 1997. And we know that it's very unusual for such a large sum of money to come from a foreign entity that doesn't identify its--the origins of the money. It's very strange.

SIEGEL: Now that's where the money came from. How did the US Family Network spend this money?

Mr. SMITH: Well, according to its tax documents, it spent a comparatively small amount on public advocacy of issues of importance to the US--to families in America. I mean, this group was almost, you know, a non-entity on Capitol Hill. None of its contemporaries--you know, other people who were interested in public advocacy on family issues--had ever heard of it. The group did, however, pay a steady monthly fee to Tom DeLay's former chief of staff, Edwin Buckham, the guy who founded the group and then who was hired by the group and paid a monthly retainer after he left Tom DeLay's staff. They paid him, you know, a monthly retainer of about $10,000. They paid him fundraising fees, and they paid him consulting fees. And, you know, we estimated that these totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars over this five-year period. He, in turn, employed Tom DeLay's wife.

SIEGEL: And Tom DeLay's wife, you reported in The Post, made about--it was about $3,000 a month for this work.

Mr. SMITH: We were told by his attorney between 3,200 and $3,900 a month for three of the years the group was in existence. The total payments by his former chief of staff paid her in total about $115,000, we're told.

SIEGEL: And what did she do for this group? At least ostensibly what did she do for the group?

Mr. SMITH: Well, this is the interesting thing. It's not illegal for a congressman's wife to be paid a salary by a consulting firm, even one involved in politics. But she has to do real work for a reasonable wage, and this is what I think the prosecutors are going to take a close look at because what she--according to her lawyer, Tom DeLay's lawyer, she was paid in order to compile a list of lawmakers' favorite charities, something that, you know, my colleagues who are experts at this kind of thing say could be accomplished pretty quickly.

SIEGEL: You mean pretty quickly as in a matter of days or weeks, not three years is what you're saying.

Mr. SMITH: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Well, Jeffrey Smith, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. SMITH: You're most welcome.

SIEGEL: Jeffrey Smith of The Washington Post talking to us about the story published on Saturday, a story called The DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail.

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