RICHMOND, Texas – House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search) on Monday opened a privately financed project touted as an innovative way of giving abused and neglected children a stable foster home environment.
"There is no other place in the entire country that does what we're trying to do," the Republican said of the project. "And we hope to take this as a model around the country because the foster care system in every state has problems that need to be dealt with."
The project also has drawn attention because the first phase includes homes constructed by Houston-based builder Perry Homes (search). The company is owned by Bob Perry, a Republican Party financial donor who gained notoriety last year as the chief financial backer of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search), whose ads criticized the war record of John Kerry.
DeLay said the homes are being built by Perry Homes at cost, and he dismissed suggestions that his charitable activities provide a way for donors to gain political access.
"We hope many other congressmen would see this as a success and will want to do this in their own districts, and that' s how we hope to get this around the country," DeLay said.
DeLay has been battered by critics on Capitol Hill for his overseas trips, political fundraising and association with a lobbyist under federal investigation.
In addition, a Texas prosecutor is investigating a political fundraising committee DeLay helped launch to assist Republican candidates in the 2002 Texas legislative elections.
DeLay has not been charged with any wrongdoing and has denied any legal or ethics violations. He has portrayed the ethics questions raised about him as a Democrat-organized smear campaign.
He refused Monday to address questions not dealing with foster children.
DeLay credited his wife, Christine, a former teacher who years ago became a court-appointed special advocate for foster children, with the idea. He said they realized through taking in three foster children that the system needed help.
The first phase of the project, costing about $8 million, consists of eight seven-bedroom homes, a gym and a chapel. Each of the houses will serve as a home for six foster children, plus their foster parents. A second phase will add 24 homes and boost the investment to $25 million, all from private sources, he said.