Carlos Guerra: Researcher who kicked off inquiries ponders DeLay's futureSan Antonio Express-News
The morning after U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay said he will leave Congress, Andrew Wheat, research director of Texans for Public Justice, sent out a short statement that began: "How the mighty have fallen."
TPJ, a nonpartisan think tank that tracks the role of corporate money on Texas politics, filed the original criminal complaint against DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority PAC on March 31, 2003.
Initially, it was pooh-poohed as a frivolous, sour-grapes gesture, but it set off probes that have produced a growing list of indictments — and apparently ended DeLay's political career.
"What historic times we live in," Wheat said from his Austin office.
It all began when DeLay tried to put together a $1 million PAC in 2000 to give the GOP control of the Texas House and, thereby, of congressional redistricting.
"But they didn't raise squat, so the next election cycle, they decided to do it by any means necessary, and corporate money is a lot easier to raise," Wheat says.
But since Texas law bans corporate money in electioneering, they circumvented the prohibition in several ways, and some overenthused players couldn't stay quiet.
In 2002, after the GOP took over the Texas House, the Texas Association of Business' Web site bragged that TAB had "blown the doors on the election" with $1.9 million of "issue ads" that attacked Democratic candidates, triggering an investigation by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle.
"Then, in March, 2003, we got the disclosures DeLay's TRMPAC had filed with the Internal Revenue Service, and in comparing those with the ones they filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, we found a $600,000 difference," Wheat recalls, "because they reported their corporate (contributions) to IRS but not to the Ethics Commission of a state where corporate electioneering is prohibited."
TPJ's criminal complaint accused TRMPAC of spending corporate money in violation of Texas law, and that case proved easier for Earle to prosecute than his case against TAB.
"That was the beginning, and much as they are doing now with the federal case, DeLay's spokespeople kept saying, 'We've been assured by Earle that (DeLay) is not a target,'" Wheat says. "It was a mantra they kept up until just before he was indicted."
Asked what other shoes he expects will drop, Wheat said he doesn't know the internal workings of ongoing federal probes, and DeLay may not be a federal target. "But it seems even more improbable that he won't be indicted because three people who have been indicted and copped deals are close insiders, (and) given the game of using smaller fish to get the bigger fish, it sure is looking like the noose is tightening on Tom DeLay."
Most interesting, the researcher said, is the latest federal indictment of "Tony Rudy (which) refers to Mr. DeLay for the first time, and also to another former DeLay aide-turned-lobbyist, Ed Buckham."
Wheat also believes that we may have only seen the tip of the iceberg in the Abramoff investigation because "all we have seen so far are the Native American e-mails, and Abramoff had a lot more clients than that, but (those e-mails) do show a pattern of quid pro quo and corruption of public officials."
But in his statement, Wheat took DeLay at his word, that he will resign because he fears that he might not win re-election.
"Here's the man who perfected the art of buying political offices," Wheat mused.
"And now, he cannot even buy his own seat in his own backyard at any price."