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Master of Corruption

Corruption-the most infallible symptom of constitutional liberty.

Edward Gibbon

Nostalgia. It’s what we all have when we compare now with then. Contrast Tom Delay’s scandals with that of Wilbur Mills.

Mr. Mills was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and one of the most powerful members of Congress. His career took a nose dive as a result of an incident in 1974 when Park Service Police stopped a car in which Wilbur and Annabell Battistella had been driving. Annabell had jumped out of the car and into the Tidal Basin at 2 A.M. Explaining scratches on his face and a bloody nose Wilbur said he had tried to prevent her from leaving the car. Annabell’s nome de plum was Fanne Foxe, the “Argentine Firecracker.” Following Fanne’s rescue from the Tidal Basin she was taken to a hospital and when filling out papers there listed her occupation as “stripper.” The event diminished Wilbur’s luster, a congressman of whom it had once been said that he went home every night and studied the Internal Revenue Code. The Fanne Fox episode suggested he had discovered more amusing activities. It was a pleasant kind of scandal. Would that Tom DeLay’s scandals were half as amusing and harmless. They are not.

Mr. DeLay whose early successes were as an exterminator feared by termites and ants alike, has become an exterminator of democracy, feared by those who believe that democracy depends on the integrity of its leaders. His character flaws have manifested themselves repeatedly over the years without, however, affecting the high esteem in which he is held by his Republican colleagues. A distressing number of them consider integrity to be a currency of little if any value as shown by the fact that none of them has the courage to challenge him.

In 2003 he engineered a Texas redistricting that will add Republican members to the Texas Congressional delegation. To effect this change, Mr. DeLay created “Texans for a Republican Majority,” a political action committee, that solicited and spent $1.5 million to get Republicans elected to the state legislature who then pushed redistricting through. Three DeLay aides supervising the process have been indicted by a grand jury in Texas on charges ranging from money laundering to soliciting and receiving illegal corporate contributions.

Mr. DeLay said to reporters that the indictments were politically motivated and he had no knowledge of the committee’s day-to-day workings. Unintentionally contradicting him, James Ellis, one of the men charged with money laundering said Mr. DeLay served on a five-member advisory board that decided which candidates to endorse. Following the indictment Mr. DeLay said: “This investigation isn,t about me. I haven,t been asked to testify. . . . I haven,t been asked to come as a witness.” Mr. DeLay seems able to distinguish between himself and his lackeys. The investigation may prove to be less discerning and implicate him notwithstanding his optimism.

In 2003 the Washington Post had a front page story linking Mr. Delay and three other members of Congress to a $56,500 campaign contribution from Westar executives. An internal Westar e mail to top executives explained the company wanted a “seat at the table” of a Congressional committee considering pending energy legislation in order to have a provision inserted that would greatly benefit the company and its executives. It said Mr. DeLay’s “agreement is necessary before the House Conferees can push the language we have in place in the House Bill” and went on to say: “We have $11,500 in immediate needs for a group of candidates associated with Tom DeLay, Billy Tauzin, Joe Barton and Senator Richard Shelby.” Thirteen Westar officers gave $31,500 to the designated candidates and the company gave $25,000 to Mr. DeLay’s PAC.

On April 3, 2001, the Associated Press reported that Mr. DeLay was making recorded calls to small business owners promising them meetings with administration officials in exchange for a $20,000 contribution for membership in his Business Advisory Council.

It would be wrong to assume that Mr. DeLay only plays for pay. The House ethics committee recently admonished Mr. DeLay for having promised to personally support retiring House member Nick Smith’s son in his bid for a seat in Congress in exchange for Mr. Smith’s favorable vote on the Medicare prescription drug bill

Attempting to reassure those of us who think Mr. DeLay is for sale, his spokesman, Stuart Roy, said: “When people contribute to DeLay or causes he supports, they are supporting his agenda. We are not supporting theirs.” Commenting on meetings with Westar officials Mr. Roy said: “We have no control over any fantasies they might have about what they might get for a campaign contribution.” He also has no control over what fantasies the rest of us have about Mr. DeLay. They are unpleasant.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a Boulder, Colorado lawyer. His column appears weekly in the Daily Camera. He can be reached at: brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu

 

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