Political Groups Paid DeLay Relatives $500,000
By PHILIP SHENON, New York Times
April 6, 2005
WASHINGTON, April 5 - The wife and daughter of Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, have been paid more than $500,000 since 2001 by Mr. DeLay's political action and campaign committees, according to a detailed review of disclosure statements filed with the Federal Election Commission and separate fund-raising records in Mr. DeLay's home state, Texas.
Most of the payments to his wife, Christine A. DeLay, and his only child, Dani DeLay Ferro, were described in the disclosure forms as "fund-raising fees," "campaign management" or "payroll," with no additional details about how they earned the money. The payments appear to reflect what Mr. DeLay's aides say is the central role played by the majority leader's wife and daughter in his political career.
Mr. DeLay's national political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority, or Armpac, said in a statement on Tuesday that the two women had provided valuable services to the committee in exchange for the payments: "Mrs. DeLay provides big picture, long-term strategic guidance and helps with personnel decisions. Ms. Ferro is a skilled and experienced professional event planner who assists Armpac in arranging and organizing individual events."
Mrs. Ferro has managed several of her father's re-election campaigns for his House seat.
His spokesman said that Mr. DeLay had no additional comment. Although several members of Congress employ family members as campaign managers or on their political action committees, advocacy groups seeking an overhaul of federal campaign-finance and ethics laws say that the payments to Mr. DeLay's family members were unusually generous, and should be the focus of new scrutiny of the Texas congressman.
Mr. DeLay, whose position as majority leader makes him the second-most-powerful House member, has offered a vigorous public defense in recent weeks to a flurry of ethics accusations from Democratic lawmakers and campaign watchdog groups, including charges that he violated House rules on travel. The executive director of Americans for a Republican Majority and a major fund-raiser for the committee were indicted in Texas last year on charges of illegal fund-raising, and prosecutors there have refused to rule out the possibility of charges against Mr. DeLay in the continuing inquiry.
In recent weeks, public interest groups have called on the House ethics committee and the Justice Department to review lavish, privately financed overseas trips for Mr. DeLay and his aides, including a 1997 trip to Russia that was underwritten by a conservative education group closely linked to a powerful Republican lobbyist who often boasted of his influence with the majority leader.
The payments to Mr. DeLay's family have continued into 2005; the latest monthly disclosure filed by Americans for a Republican Majority shows Mrs. DeLay was paid was paid $4,028 last month, while Mrs. Ferro received $3,681. Earlier statements show that the two women received similar monthly fees from the political action committee throughout 2003 and 2004.
Mrs. DeLay has been involved in her husband's political career and his fund-raising operations in Washington and Texas. In an interview in 2003 with Roll Call, a newspaper on Capitol Hill, a spokesman for Mr. DeLay explained Mrs. DeLay's role as "the final signoff of Tom's travel schedule, what events he attends and what his name appears on."
Mrs. Ferro has also helped manage Mr. DeLay's charity operations. Financial disclosure statements filed by Mr. DeLay's House campaign committees, which are separate from Americans for a Republican Majority, show that Mrs. Ferro and her political consulting firm, Coastal Consulting of Sugar Land, Tex., received $222,000 from 2001 through last year, reflecting her role in the re-election campaigns.
Although there has been no suggestion from prosecutors that Mrs. Ferro is under investigation by the grand jury in Austin, her records were subpoenaed in the inquiry, which is focused on the fund-raising activities of Texans for a Republican Majority, a state political action committee modeled on Americans for a Republican Majority. Mrs. Ferro received about $30,000 in fund-raising and consulting fees from Texans for a Republican Majority, the committee's records show.
"It's DeLay Inc. " said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a research group that has closely monitored Mr. DeLay and his campaign fund-raising and expenditures. "If it's not illegal, it certainly is inappropriate for members of Congress to use their positions to enrich their families."
Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics and a former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission, said that "questions are raised anytime a politician puts close family members on the payroll."
Republican lawmakers can point to prominent Democrats whose campaign and political action committees have provided lucrative jobs or consulting contracts to family members. Representative Howard L. Berman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House ethics committee from 1997 to 2003, paid $50,000 from his campaign accounts last year to a consulting firm owned by his brother, according to disclosure forms. Disclosure statements also show that Senator Barbara Boxer, another California Democrat, directed $15,000 from her political action committee in 2003 to a consulting firm run by her son.
Several public interest groups have called in recent weeks for the House ethics committee or another body that may be examining his finances to open an investigation of Mr. DeLay, focused in part on his privately financed overseas travels, including the 1997 trip to Moscow and a 2000 trip to Britain. Questions about the trips' financing were first raised in March in an article in the National Journal.
Mr. DeLay has denied that he violated House rules in accepting the 2000 trip from a conservative education group associated with one of the city's most powerful Republican lobbyists, Jack Abramoff.
The nonprofit education group, the National Center for Public Policy Research, has said it received large contributions from Mr. Abramoff's clients about the time of the trips, although it has denied that the donations were redirected to finance Mr. DeLay's travels.
The trip to Moscow, according to the American Foreign Policy Council report, was backed by the energy companies that had ties to the Russian government and that were trying to build support in Washington for Russian privatization efforts and trade policies.
Mr. DeLay met with Russian business and political leaders. House financial disclosure statements show that Mr. DeLay's travel costs totaled $9,029 and that the costs for five members of his staff totaled $55,033. It listed the sponsor as the National Center for Public Policy Research.
Bobby R. Burchfield, a lawyer for Mr. DeLay, declined to comment, as did the National Center for Public Policy Research. Jonathan Blank, managing partner at Preston Gates & Ellis in Washington, said the firm had represented Chelsea but would not discuss whether the organization had helped pay for Mr. DeLay's trip.
Dan Allen, a spokesman for Mr. DeLay, said the congressman had filed forms stating that the Moscow and Britain trips were paid by the National Center for Public Policy Research.
Eric Lipton and Monica Borkowski contributed reporting for this article.