A cash casualty of DeLay indictment? Big donors may hang onto their millions
WASHINGTON – Tom DeLay has persuaded donors to give more than $35 million to his Republican fundraising operations, a steady cash flow over 10 years that the GOP fears will slow with the criminal indictment of the one-time House majority leader.In the coming weeks, the Republicans won’t have DeLay to charm, cajole or arm-twist potential contributors. The 11-term lawmaker will be focusing on fighting a charge of conspiracy to violate Texas election law in a campaign finance scheme.Professing his innocence, DeLay has said he is a victim of a political witch hunt.”Tom needs to deal with this situation and get it behind him,” said former Rep. Robert S. Walker, R-Pa., a lobbyist who was a top lieutenant in the 1994 Republican revival that broke the Democrats’ 40-year stranglehold on the House and brought DeLay to power.As House Republican whip and then the leadership’s No. 2, the hard-charging DeLay focused on Washington’s power elite and the nation’s industries, forcing contributors who had covered their bets by giving to both political parties to direct their dollars to the GOP.”Tom DeLay’s effectiveness was not his ability to raise money, but the amount of money because people were afraid not to give,” said former Rep. Tony Coelho of California, who served as the Democratic whip.Troubling to the Republicans is that DeLay’s indictment combined with other GOP gloomy news – President Bush’s declining approval ratings, rising gas prices and other scandals – could convince big-money donors that the Democrats have a chance of winning next year. They fear this will depress contributions to the GOP and increase the numbers for the Democrats.Two senior Republican officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity while the legal process plays out, said DeLay’s predicament and the other GOP woes also could hurt candidate recruitment and undercut Bush’s agenda.One Republican – Rep. Jeb Bradley of New Hampshire – told the New Hampshire Union Leader that he was returning $15,000 that he received from DeLay’s political action committee.Some Republicans, however, offer a more upbeat assessment.”I don’t anticipate a significant diminution of support for Republican efforts,” said former Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., a lobbyist.Republican fundraising is “very mature at all levels,” said former Rep. Bill Paxon, R-N.Y.Since 1994, DeLay has been a fundraiser with few peers. Former President Clinton and President Bush are the other top draws. Through DeLay’s campaign account, his political action committee – Americans for a Republican Majority – and other entities, the Texas Republican has raised tens of millions and divvied up the dollars to numerous GOP candidates.His campaign account has collected more than $12 million, largely from the finance, insurance and energy sectors, and dispensed nearly that much. DeLay’s various committees and organizations have raised millions more for the GOP, with the amount climbing steadily as the Republicans tightened their grip on Congress and captured the White House in 2000.But this is just one slice of DeLay’s fundraising prowess.He pressured Washington’s lobbying firms to hire Republicans – known as the “K Street Project” – and keep the money flowing to the GOP at the Democrats’ expense. He set fundraising goals for rank-and-file House Republicans.The result was that by the last election industries across the board – agriculture, real estate, health care, finance – favored Republicans over Democrats by 2-to-1, even 3-to-1 margins in campaign dollars, according to the nonpartisan Political MoneyLine. The lone exception was labor.With the 2006 midterm elections looming, the party is struggling with Bush’s standing, diminishing public confidence in the economy, a growing U.S. death toll in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina’s toll on Republican political capital.In the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., faces a federal investigation into a stock sale. At the White House, a federal prosecutor is looking at the highest echelon in the leak of a CIA operative’s name. In the House, DeLay’s departure has touched off a battle in the GOP ranks for the leadership posts.Coelho, who resigned in 1989 amid a junk bond scandal, has seen the reaction from donors to political woes.”Am I saying they’re going to be kicked out next year? No, I’m not.” However, he said, “It is the perfect storm right now. … And people on Wall Street and people in the business community sit back and say ‘wait a minute here.”‘Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform who works closely with the House Republican leadership, argued that DeLay and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., “created a Republican cause and majority in the House that is self-sustaining.”And if DeLay survives the charge, watch out. “Tom DeLay is a Christian and may turn the other cheek, but I wouldn’t bet on it.”—AP Political Writer Ron Fournier contributed to this report.