Divine Intervention


God Bless you Tony Rudy—are we the only ones with political instincts—This whole thing about not kicking someone when they are down is BS—Not only do you kick him—you kick him until he passes out—then beat him over the head with a baseball bat—then roll him up in an old rug…

— Mike Scanlon e-mail to Tony Rudy in 1998, discussing Bill Clinton, whose impeachment the two DeLay aides were helping their boss push through the House

The scheme that cost former Majority Leader Tom DeLay his U.S. House seat was built on a machine that extracted money from K Street lobbyists to fuel Republican political campaigns and fund a stunningly extravagant lifestyle for lobbyists and members of Congress who would deliver critical votes. It began in 1994, when DeLay went to the corporate lobby for money to compete with Newt Gingrich’s fundraising. By his own account, DeLay directed $2 million in lobby money to Republican House candidates that year. As lobbyist Tom Rher told The Washington Post at the time, “We’d rustle up checks for the guy and make sure Tom got the credit.”

That direct line to the corporate lobby funded DeLay’s rise to power. By 2003 his fundraising operation was bringing in $12,785 a day—far surpassing anything ever done by a member of the U.S. House. As whip, and later as majority leader, DeLay lavished funds on the campaigns of Republican candidates who supported him and threatened to fund primary opponents to challenge Republican members who opposed him. One of his contributions to the political lexicon is the use of “primary” as a verb, derived from DeLay’s threats “to primary” defiant members of his own party.

Earlier this month, that same direct line to corporate money ended Tom DeLay’s career. DeLay had achieved what few thought possible: Using the “K Street Project,” he domesticated the corporate lobby. From its modest beginning in 1995, when DeLay summoned lobbyists into his leadership office and pointed to a Grover Norquist spreadsheet that included their contributions to Democrats, the project grew into an elaborate pay-to-play program by which DeLay, anti-tax activist Norquist, Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and others would vet candidates for top corporate lobby positions. Only Republicans made the cut. They were hired with an implied understanding that they would contribute the annual maximum to Republican candidates and campaigns.

Jack Abramoff and his partner Mike Scanlon did their part, taking their cut from their $82 million Indian client billing scheme and sending along what Sicilians call tributo to Republican campaigns and advocacy groups. On one single day three years ago, Abramoff ordered the Coushatta Indian Tribal Council to make more than $300,000 in political contributions. It was also by the unwritten rules of the K Street Project that Scanlon, DeLay’s former press aide, made a $500,000 contribution to the national Republican Governors Association in 2002.

Abramoff, Scanlon, and Tony Rudy, who had served as DeLay’s assistant chief of staff, were “rustling up checks” when a Department of Justice task force caught up with them. In court documents DOJ lawyers filed in Rudy’s prosecution, DeLay was named as “Representative #2.” Abramoff, Scanlon, and Rudy have all pled guilty to felonies. Those same DOJ lawyers were looking at Representative #2 earlier this month, when he announced he will resign from the House seat he has held since 1984. He told his pastor that God wanted him to withdraw from the election and leave Congress. — Lou Dubose

Former Observer editor Lou Dubose is co-author, with Jan Reid, of the PublicAffairs political thriller, The Hammer Comes Down: The Nasty, Brutish and Short-ened Political Life of Tom DeLay.