11/22/2004

MSNBC - How DeLay Rakes It In

MSNBC - How DeLay Rakes It In

Nov. 29 issue - Rep. Tom ("the Hammer") DeLay strengthened his hand in the House last week when the Republican caucus voted a rule change that would permit him to stay on as majority leader even if he is indicted in a Texas fund-raising probe. At the same time, DeLay is quietly raking in fresh bundles of cash from GOP colleagues and big corporate donors for another highly personal cause: paying off his mounting legal bills.

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A NEWSWEEK tally shows that a special legal-defense fund created by DeLay in 2000 has collected more than $932,000, including $370,000 in the past four months alone. That's when Austin prosecutor Ronnie Earle began stepping up his investigation into allegedly illicit fund-raising by a political committee set up by DeLay to push a controversial redistricting plan through the Texas Legislature. A huge chunk of the new DeLay legal-defense cash, $200,000, comes from Republican House members who have new reasons to be especially grateful to the majority leader: the success of the DeLay-engineered Texas redistricting plan brought four new Texas GOP members to Washington this month, thereby consolidating Republican control in the chamber.

But much of the rest of the cash comes from a posse of corporate donors such as Texas horse-racing magnate Charles Hurwitz, who, along with his company, Maxxam, has chipped in $10,000 to pay DeLay's legal debts. (Hurwitz also has contributed an additional $24,000 to other DeLay campaign committees in recent years.) Hurwitz and DeLay have a long relationship: when Hurwitz was facing a suit by federal regulators for allegedly defrauding a savings and loan in 1999, DeLay interceded with the chief federal bank regulator in an unsuccessful attempt to get her agency to back off the case. Hurwitz later hosted a golf and marlin-fishing fund-raiser for DeLay at Palmas del Mar, a luxurious resort complex he owns in Puerto Rico.

Hurwitz's most recent cause is getting legislation in Texas to permit video lottery and blackjack terminals at his Houston racetrack. To that end, Maxxam donated $50,000 to the campaign coffers of Texas Gov. Rick Perry as well as an additional $5,000 to DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), the committee at the center of Earle's probe into the improper use of corporate cash in Texas races. NEWSWEEK has learned that Maxxam's donation to TRMPAC, solicited by a DeLay fund-raiser, is among those now being scrutinized by Austin prosecutor Earle.

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