In August, 2004, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) gave House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, (R) Sugar Land, Texas, a check for $100,000 for his DeLay Foundation for Kids during a Lexington, Kentucky, political fund raiser for DeLay’s defense fund organized by Representative Hal Rogers, senior congressman from Kentucky. The event also raised $113,000 in donations to the defense fund.
DeLay has been under fire for questionable fund raising since three of his political aides were indicted for money laundering and illegally using corporate money to influence elections in Texas. The September 21, 2004, indictments resulted in large legal expenses for DeLay, who is seeking to avoid indictment himself. Thus far, DeLay has spent tens of thousands of dollars on defense lawyers with no end in sight. That may not be a problem since DeLay’s defense fund raised over $400,000 between July and December, 2004.
CCA donated nearly $180,000 to politicians for federal elections during 2004. DeLay received $4,500 for political contributions from CCA in 2004, while Rogers received $6,000. CCA is the largest, for profit, private prison company in the world with more than 65,000 prisoners under its control. Despite a long history of scandal, deaths and mismanagement, the company continues to thrive due in large part to the political largesse bought by its campaign donations and political lobbying.
Jonathan Grella, DeLay’s spokesman, says DeLay Foundation donors receive no political favors in return for their contributions. DeLay’s critics disagree, claiming he has blurred the line between political and charitable contributions.
“These political foundations have become methods for well-heeled corporate executives, lobbyists and others to purchase influence and face time with top politicians, and without the limits or disclosure required of campaign donations or lobbying,” according to Rick Cohen, executive director of the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy.
Meanwhile, DeLay has generated more controversy by accepting seven donations to his defense fund from lobbyists or law firms registered to lobby in Congress. House rules enacted in 1996 prohibit such contributions.
“It’s a clear-cut violation of House rules,” said Conor Kenny of Public Citizen, a watchdog group that has frequently criticized DeLay’s fundraising.
Lobbyist Vin Webber, who contributed $1,000 to the defense fund, and law firm Locke, Liddell & Sapp, which contributed $2,500, both said they were unaware of the rule. Brent Perry, trustee of the legal defense fund, said that Weber’s and Locke, Liddell’s checks would be returned. However, the other five checks cited by Public Citizen would not be returned because they were signed by the wives of the lobbyists, not the lobbyists themselves.
“Obviously we take great care in making sure that we abide by the rules,” said Grella.
Public Citizen is also investigating $23,000 in legal defense fund contributions from Reliant Energy and Bacardi USA, both of which are being investigated for possible illegal fund raising by a DeLay political committee in Texas, the members of which were indicted on September 21, 2004. Of course rule violations have not been a problem for DeLay in the past: he just had the House change those pesky rules. That’s what he did in 2003 when the rules were changed to allow representatives to accept free vacations from lobbyists and corporate executives so long as the vacations are connected to charity events like the DeLayfoundation-sponsored golf tournaments held in Texas and Florida. Seems DeLay likes using charitable organizations to dodge the fund-raising rules.
Sources: msnbc.com, Knight Ridder News Service, Newsweek
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