Page 22


the K Street crowd to an art form. Adds Rusbuldt, the insurance agents’ lobbyist, “He is the hardest-working man in politics. He just outworks everybody else. I don’t think the guy ever sleeps.” “He is renowned as a vote counter, and as a vote grower,” says Paxon. “You don’t find many who can do that well. And you’ve got to be a full-service operation to back up the members.” DeLay was elected whip in 1994, in a hard-fought contest that pitted him against Pennsylvania Republican Bob Walker, the handpicked candidate of Newt Gingrich. By carefully accumulating allies in the Republican caucus in part by spreading around excess campaign cash to strapped junior members DeLay handily defeated Walker 119-80. Among his key allies in the election for whip was a little-known Illinois Republican named Denny Hastert, who managed DeLay’s whip campaign. In exchange, DeLay designated Hastert as his chief deputy whip and when Gingrich collapsed in 1998, DeLay engineered the elevation of Hastert to his current post as Speaker of the House. They remain close allies, and DeLay is often described as a Wizard of Oz-like figure behind the colorless Hastert. Though often portrayed as an ally of Gingrich during the heady days after the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, in fact DeLay had a wobbly and often troubled relationship with Newt, going back to 1989, when DeLay backed Gingrich’s opponent for the post of minority leader. During Gingrich’s reign as speaker, DeLay faithfully carried out Newt’s directives, but DeLay’s allies are at pains to note that the Texan was by no means always comfortable with Gingrich’s erratic shifts. “As a team player, you have to stick by the coach,” says Rusbuldt. “When Newt was speaker, I would not blame Tom DeLay for any of Newt’s mistakes.” In 1997, DeLay finally broke with Gingrich, joining and helping to incite an ill-starred plot to topple him and elect Bill Paxon speaker. Launched by a restless group of House conservatives, the plot drew in DeLay, Paxon, and even House Majority Leader Armey though Armey ended up exposing the conspiracy to Gingrich. DeLay’s role in supporting the anti-Gingrich insurgency caught on tape and broadcast on Fox News, with DeLay heard saying that he would join the rebels in voting to “vacate the chair” Gingrich and DeLay for the rest of Newt’s term. Yet ironically, it also allowed DeLay and Paxon, now close allies, to strengthen their relationship and to build an independent political base around DeLay which proved enormously crucial in sustaining DeLay’s power in the wake of Gingrich’s fall. 11 along, DeLay was patiently cementing his ties to Washing ton’s PACs and special interests. Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, he is able to summon up the political clout and campaign cash of the K Street lobbyists in support of the party, particularly on behalf of members whose seats are not secure and whose ability to raise cash is not so strong. “He’s the lobbyists’ front man,” says Joan Claybrook, president of Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen. Since taking over several years ago as the House Republicans’ liaison to K Street, replacing Ohio’s John Boehner in that role, DeLay has adopted a no-holds-barred approach to the lobby, not only demanding regular infusions of PAC cash but insisting that business interests stop giving money to Democrats and even, at times, seeking to purge the business community of Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans. “Nobody has tried to use the link with lobbyists the way Tom DeLay has,” says Ornstein. “He’s tried to make sure that in every private sector group there is a loyal Republican he can rely on, and he uses them in an aggressive fundraising way.” Two years ago, DeLay drew flak for going too far in demanding that lobbyists demonstrate fealty to the post-1994 Republican Congress, lambasting the Electronic Industries Association for naming a Democrat, former Congressman Dave McCurdy of Oklahoma, to head its Washington operation. “We think,” barked DeLay, “it’s an insult to the majority to hire a partisan Democrat.” In retaliation, DeLay threatened to hold up key legislation an action that sparked withering criticism and an eventual mild rebuke from the House ethics committee. A little later, however, the E.I.A. quietly hired a former House Republican staff member who promptly showed up at a fundraiser for DeLay’s ARMPAC. DeLay has institutionalized his ties to K Street, too. Every Wednesday, DeLay and his chief deputy whip, Congressman Roy Blunt of Missouri, hold strategy sessions with an ever-changing group of lobbyists, often including Paxon, Rusbuldt, Lonnie Taylor of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other lobbyists, including representatives of big law firms like Boland & Madigan and Williams & Jensen. “In the last year, at least, it’s been relatively informal,” says Blunt. “It doesn’t have a name, and it’s not always the same people.” Frequently, this informal “kitchen cabinet” is expanded to create an ad hoc coalition of special interests to mobilize muscle and money behind a specific bill or legislative priority. As an example, Blunt -who presides over the Wednesday meetings cites the coalition DeLay assembled to back the House Republicans’ $700 billion tax cut bill this summer. “We’d occasionally get a hundred people into a room to talk about what the tax cut was going to look like,” says Blunt, who says that the tax cut group was chaired by Mike Baroody of the National Association of Manufacturers. DeLay and Blunt spun out task forces, comprised of teams of lobbyists, on issues from energy to health care to banking to defense. One of DeLay’s pet peeves is government regulation, especially when it comes to the environment a phobia that goes back to DeLay’s days as owner of a Texas pest extermination company he says. Wont to call the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “the Gestapo,” DeLay has pushed for repeal of the Clean Air Act, and in 1995 tried to slash the E.P.A.’s enforcement budget by onethird, adding a host of so-called “rider” amendments to appropriations bills that would have devastated environmental protection laws. One of his special interest coalitions was called Project Relief, a huge alliance of lobbyists that poured more than $10 million into campaign contributions for congressional Republicans. But that campaign, which sought a sweeping rollback of U.S. health, safety, and environmental rules, not only offended dozens of more moderate, northeastern Republicans, but sparked a mini-scandal when it was revealed that DeLay allowed business lobbyists from the American Petroleum Institute to sit down with committee staff and actually help draft the legislation. Given the kind of intimate association DeLay has with K Street, it was only a short step to the establishment in 1999 of DeLay Inc. “DeLay Incorporated is one of the most savvy, aggressive political 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER FEBRUARY 4, 2000 MK\(