WASHINGTON – A spokesman for embattled Rep. Tom DeLay on Saturday disputed any assertion that donations to a nonprofit group linked to the congressman influenced his legislative agenda.
Those donations, to a now-disbanded nonprofit group called U.S. Family Network, came from interests close to indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to a story in Saturday's Washington Post.
In an e-mail, DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden said the donations were not a factor in the congressional activities of the Texas Republican and former House majority leader.
"Mr. DeLay makes decisions and sets legislative priorities based on good policy and what is best for his constituents and the country. Any suggestion of outside influence is manipulative and absurd," Madden said. "Mr. DeLay has very firm beliefs and he fights very hard for them."
The U.S. Family Network was founded by Ed Buckham, a close adviser and former chief of staff to DeLay. The congressman promoted the group in a 1999 fundraising letter, and it received $2.5 million in donations from its founding in 1996 until it disbanded five years later, the Post reported.
According to the Post, the donations included:
—$1 million in 1998 from a London law firm that was channeled from two Russian oil executives. The executives denied the transaction ever took place, but a former president of the U.S. Family Network said he was told money was to influence DeLay's position on a possible tax increase in Russia. DeLay spoke out against the possible increase, which was tied to potential international loans to bail out Russia's troubled economy.
In 1997, DeLay visited Russia and met with those executives, the Post said. DeLay spokesman Madden said the purpose of the trip was "primarily to meet with religious leaders there. Religious persecution was a problem that Mr. DeLay hoped to address. The trip was dedicated to exploring substantive policy issues affecting Russian-American relations."
—$500,000 in 1998 and 1999 from textile companies in the Mariana Islands. DeLay committed to blocking legislation that would increase those companies' labor costs.
— $250,000 from the Mississippi Choctaw band of American Indians. The U.S. Family Network later issued a letter opposed to another tribe opening a casino in neighboring Alabama that would have competed with the Choctaws' casino. DeLay had the Choctaws' chief saluted in the congressional record in 2001.
DeLay spokesman Madden downplayed this action. "Compiling information for the Congressional Record is usually a routine action conducted by staff in congressional offices," he said.
Abramoff is linked to all three groups, the Post said. The lobbyist and a former partner were indicted in Miami in August on charges of conspiracy and fraud for allegedly lying about their assets to help secure financing to purchase a fleet of gambling boats.
The U.S. Family Network spent some of the donations on radio advertising attacking Democratic lawmakers, and it paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Buckham's lobbying firm. The organization also bought a town house in Washington that DeLay used to make fundraising calls.
DeLay has been accused in Texas of illegally funneling corporate campaign contributions to GOP candidates for the state Legislature. He stepped down from his post of House majority leader when he was indicted.
The Post story says there is no evidence that DeLay profited directly from the U.S. Family Network donations.
Madden said, "Mr. DeLay has acted according to ethical guidelines while similarly adhering to a policy of prompt and public disclosure of all activities."