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Rep. Tom DeLay Accepted Lobbyists’ Contributions to Legal Defense Fund in Likely Violation of House Rules

Dec. 6, 2004

Rep. Tom DeLay Accepted Lobbyists’ Contributions to Legal Defense Fund in Likely Violation of House Rules

Public Citizen Urges DeLay to Return the Funds and for the House Ethics Committee to Investigate This Alleged Violation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) may have once again violated the rules of the House of Representatives, this time by accepting contributions to his legal defense fund from three registered lobbyists, according to an investigation by Public Citizen.

Under House rule XXV (5)(c)(3), registered lobbyists are prohibited from making contributions to a member’s legal defense fund. Yet Public Citizen’s investigation of the contributions made to DeLay’s Legal Expense Trust found three such contributions totaling $4,000:

  • Jeffrey Fedorchak of Impact Strategies, who donated $2,000 between April 1 and June 30, 2003. During that period, Fedorchak was registered as a lobbyist and his clients included Servicemaster Co. and Tuolumne Utilities District, according to U.S. Senate lobbying disclosure records.
  • Robert Odle Jr. of Weil Gotshal & Manges, who donated $1,000 between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2001. During that period, Odle was registered as a lobbyist for Nomura International, according to Senate records.
  • Vin Weber of Clark & Weinstock, who contributed $1,000 between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2001. During that period, Weber was registered as a lobbyist and his clients included the Greek government, Microsoft and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Senate records show.

“Representative DeLay should promptly return these funds, and the House ethics committee should evaluate whether this was an intentional breach of House rules,” said Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen president. “Given the majority leader’s enormous power, Congress must ensure that other lobbyists with business before the House aren’t trying to curry favor by contributing to DeLay’s legal defense.” 

Public Citizen also found three additional checks totaling $4,500 from Locke Liddell & Sapp and two of its lawyers. Locke Liddell & Sapp was a registered lobbying firm when those contributions were made in 2001. The firm of Becker & Poliakoff also made a $1,000 contribution in 2002, when it was a registered lobbying firm. However, it is unclear if House rules apply to firms and their non-registered employees in addition to individual, registered lobbyists.

Under House rules, donors may contribute a maximum of $5,000 per year to a legal defense fund, and contributions can be made by individuals, political action committees (PACs), and corporate and union treasuries.

Public Citizen’s probe also found that two corporations involved in an ongoing Texas district attorney’s investigation of alleged illegal campaign contributions into Texas state elections by PACs formed by DeLay also have contributed to DeLay’s legal defense fund.

Reliant Energy Inc. and Bacardi USA are alleged to have made the illegal contributions at the heart of the Texas prosecutor’s investigation. Bacardi has also been charged with making an unlawful political contribution. Public Citizen found that the two companies have contributed a total of $23,000 to help DeLay defray his legal costs.

“It’s ironic that the corporations financing the majority leader’s defense are the very same ones whose relationships with Mr. DeLay are being investigated,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch.

Three top DeLay aides, John Colyandro, Jim Ellis and Warren Robold, already have been indicted in the case. It has been speculated that DeLay himself may be the next target of the Texas grand jury.

DeLay’s legal fund was formed in 2000, soon after he was sued by Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The lawsuit alleged that DeLay had violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) by engaging in money laundering and threatening legislative consequences to those who did not back Republican candidates or causes.

The Democrats dropped the lawsuit the following year. But the death of the legal action did not mean the demise of DeLay’s legal fund, which has continued to survive and even prosper. A complete analysis of DeLay’s Legal Expense Trust and background on his previous violations of House Rules is posted on Public Citizen’s Web site, http://www.DethroneDeLay.org.

Major findings of an analysis of the more than $748,471 contributed to DeLay’s legal fund since 2001 include:

  • A state-by-state breakdown shows that the largest amounts were contributed by donors from   ($233,200), Kentucky ($112,800), Virginia ($47,500), the District of Columbia ($46,000), Florida ($39,500), California ($35,850) and Missouri ($22,750). The sizable amount from Kentucky came from a fundraiser organized by Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), who is seeking DeLay’s support in his bid to become the new Appropriations Committee chairman.
  • Sixty-eight percent of the contributions ($507,496) came from corporations and their employees. Leading industry contributors were energy and natural resources ($107,300); construction ($80,800); finance, insurance and real estate ($45,290); communications and electronics ($44,250); and lawyers and lobbyists ($39,000).
  • Current and former members of Congress and their PACs contributed $178,000, or 24 percent, to DeLay’s legal fund. Leading the pack are Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who contributed $20,000, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), who contributed $15,000, and Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), who contributed $10,000.