House Republican leader Tom DeLay (search) and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (search) are among five lawmakers who have accepted lobbyist donations to their legal defense funds despite rules prohibiting such contributions.
Congressional records show that DeLay accepted contributions from five lobbyists and one lobbying firm totaling $8,000 between 2001 and 2004. He has returned $3,500 from two of the donors.
Reid accepted one lobbyist contribution of $3,000 in 1999.
The contributions were reported by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan, tax-exempt organization that conducts investigative research and reporting on public policy issues.
Lawmakers can establish defense funds to help pay legal bills for ethics and criminal investigations or other legal matters including election recounts.
DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden said an audit by an independent firm is under way to ensure the donations complied with the rules.
"Any donations that are in noncompliance with the rules pertaining to legal defense funds (search) will be returned," Madden said. "The audit will be finished shortly. Oftentimes, because of the volume or timing, some donations that are in noncompliance slip through."
Lobbyist Robert Odle Jr. said a $1,000 contribution to DeLay's fund in 2001 actually was made by his wife, although the fund reported both their names — as listed on the check.
Reid spokeswoman Tessa Hafen said the senator received a contribution from a longtime friend who had registered as a lobbyist shortly before the donation. She said Reid was not aware of the registration at the time.
Hafen said the legal defense fund account is closed and Reid has asked the Senate's ethics committee how to proceed.
Rep. Jim McDermott (search), D-Wash., received $2,500 in donations from four lobbyists from 2001 to this year. Spokesman Michael DeCesare said three of the four contributions have been returned and one, for $500, is being double-checked because it may have been incorrectly reported.
"We strive for perfection," DeCesare said. "I would support the contention we do exactly that." He added that "in a few instances, over a period of five years," mistakes were made.
Their spokesmen, asked about the contributions, did not immediately comment.