Hammer Nailed

It's a big day for the ethically-challenged Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) today, with two front-page stories in national newspapers dealing with different scandals. One bombshell detonated on the front page of today's Washington Post: according to four different people with firsthand knowledge of the vacation, a six-day trip to Moscow DeLay took in 1997 was "underwritten by business interests lobbying in support of the Russian government." (Remember, the Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives on Gifts and Travel state that "a Member, officer or employee may not accept travel expenses from 'a registered lobbyist or agent of a foreign principal.'") Not to be outdone, The New York Times fronts its own DeLay disgrace. According to records, since 2001, DeLay's wife and daughter have been paid over a half million dollars by DeLay's political action and campaign committees.

According to The Washington Post, DeLay may have taken an expense-paid, six-day trip to Moscow in 1997 set up by the scandal-riddled Jack Abramoff and footed by a shadowy, off-shore lobbying group. While in Russia, he had dinner with Russian oil and gas executives as well as Washington-based lobbyists (including Abramoff). The trip, which cost more than $57,000, was paid for by "a mysterious company registered in the Bahamas" which was actually a front for a $440,000 intensive lobbying campaign financed by the Russians. At the time, however, DeLay reported the trip was paid for by a Washington non-profit. He tried to slide the trip under the government radar, however; "breaking with traditional practice for congressmen traveling overseas," DeLay "did not contact the State Department in advance or meet with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow" regarding his meeting with the Russian execs.

The tab for DeLay's Russia trip was paid by an obscure firm called Chelsea Commercial Enterprises, which was deeply involved with Russian oil executives. It's a purposely tangled web, but here's how to get from Point A to Point B: Registered in the Bahamas, Chelsea was paid by a Russian oil and gas company known as Naftasib to lobby Congress for on its behalf. Chelsea then turned around and hired two Washington, D.C. lobbying firms, Preston Gates Ellis and Rouvelas Meeds, to do the actual lobbying. One of the Rouvelas Meeds lobbyists -- Jack Abramoff -- then set up a trip for Tom DeLay to meet the Naftasib executives in Moscow, using a D.C. nonprofit, the National Center for Public Policy Research. NCPPR paid for the trip ... then, according to sources, was paid back by the Russian-paid Chelsea.

In 1997 and 1998, the Russians were worried about losing the billions of dollars in aid from the West on which they depended heavily. At the time, House Conservatives, who scorned such aid as "corporate welfare," were becoming increasingly critical of U.S. and international lending institutions. Not DeLay! According to The Washington Post, he was consistently "a 'yes' vote for institutions bolstering Russia in this period. For example, DeLay voted for a bill that included the replenishment of billions of dollars in IMF funds used to bail out the Russian economy in 1998."

The Russia trip is just the latest in a long list of lobbyist-funded exotic vacations for this jet-setting congressman. He enjoyed a luxurious British vacation in mid-2000, set up by lobbyists and paid for by an Indian tribe and a gambling services company to the tune of about $70,000. And in 2001, he was off to Asia, on an expense-paid trip to South Korea which, in direct violation of House rules, was paid for by a South Korean lobbying group. The cost to send his entourage to Seoul for three days? A cool $106,921.

The New York Times leads with DeLay's apparent nepotism. According to disclosure forms (which are legally required by the Federal Election Committee), DeLay's wife, Christine DeLay, and daughter, Dani DeLay Ferro, received more than $500,000 from DeLay's national political action committee, AMPAC, his House campaign committees, and the closely aligned Texans for a Republican Majority, or TRMPAC. The payments were merely described as for "fund-raising fees," "campaign management" or "payroll"; there were "no additional details about how they earned the money." DeLay's wife made over $4,000 a month from AMPAC. His daughter also got a sweet chunk of the pie. Since 2003, she received over $3,500 each month from DeLay's national political action committee, AMPAC. Through her consulting firm, she also raked in $222,000 in fees from DeLay's House campaign committees. And while so far there is "no suggestion from prosecutors" that she is personally under investigation by a grand jury in Austin, her records have been subpoenaed in an inquiry focused on the fund-raising activities of TRMPAC, which is the state version of AMPAC. Ferro made close to $30,000 off of that group. (Her father is currently embroiled in a separate scandal with TRMPAC for his alleged participation in illegally funneling corporate funds to the group in order assist state political campaigns.)

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