Tomorrow's Washington Post has a long story on the U.S. Family Network, a supposed charity founded by one of Tom DeLay's aides:
"A top adviser to former House Whip Tom DeLay received more than a third of all the money collected by the U.S. Family Network, a nonprofit organization the adviser created to promote a pro-family political agenda in Congress, according to the group's accounting records.
DeLay's former chief of staff, Edwin A. Buckham, who helped create the group while still in DeLay's employ, and his wife, Wendy, were the principal beneficiaries of the group's $3.02 million in revenue, collecting payments totaling $1,022,729 during a five-year period ending in 2001, public and private records show.
The group's revenue was mostly drawn from clients of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to its records. From an FBI subpoena for the records, it can be inferred that the bureau is exploring whether there were links between the payments and favorable legislative treatment of Abramoff's clients by DeLay's office. (...)
In the late 1990s, when DeLay's influence was growing, the lawmaker depicted the USFN in a promotional letter as a nationwide, grass-roots organization. In fact, it had a tiny staff that barely registered an impact on Capitol Hill. The group appears to have served mostly as a vehicle for funneling corporate funds to DeLay's advisers and financing ads that attacked Democrats.
The group's payments to the Buckhams -- in the form of a monthly retainer as well as commissions on donations by Abramoff's clients -- overlapped briefly with Edwin Buckham's service as chief of staff to DeLay and continued during his subsequent role as DeLay's chief political adviser.
During this latter period, Buckham and his wife, Wendy, acting through their consulting firm, made monthly payments averaging $3,200-$3,400 apiece to DeLay's wife, Christine, for three of the years in which he collected money from the USFN and some other clients. (...)
Wendy Buckham was not the only spouse of a DeLay staffer to benefit from the USFN revenue stream sustained by Abramoff's clients. A consulting firm owned by the wife of Tony C. Rudy, DeLay's deputy chief of staff, was paid $15,600 by the group in 1999 and another $10,400 in 2000. Rudy resigned to work with Abramoff in 2001. It could not be determined what the payments were for. (...)
A previous article in The Post detailed how USFN had drawn its largest checks from Abramoff's clients, including $1 million from what several former Buckham associates described as Russian oil and gas executives and hundreds of thousands of dollars from an Indian tribe.
Records obtained by federal investigators after that article appeared and reviewed by The Post make clear just how unusual USFN's spending was. Its revenue was lavished not only on DeLay's advisers but on a variety of expenses that experts say are atypical for such a small nonprofit: $62,375 for wall art, a vase listed at $20,100, airfare and meals for Abramoff that cost $11,548, and $267,202 in travel and entertainment expenses that appear to have mostly benefited Buckham, the group's board members, and its tiny staff. (...)
In the version of the group's official, typewritten ledgers, supplied to the FBI last month under subpoena, several of its most unusual expenditures are partially crossed out and relabeled in ink. The $20,100 purchase of a vase in October 1999 from a Royal Doulton dealer in Miami was relabeled "office equipment," and the $62,375 purchase in January 1999 of a collection of Salvador Dali and Peter Max prints was relabeled "office fixtures.""
Because every charity needs a twenty thousand dollar vase. Of course.
The U.S. Family Network claimed to promote "families, the economic prosperity, social improvement, moral fitness, and general well being of the United States." What did it actually advocate? Well:
"One of the first policy issues to be discussed by the group's board, according to its March 1997 minutes, was a "free-market research project" in the Northern Marianas Islands, a U.S. protectorate in the Pacific Ocean.
At the time, Abramoff was under contract with the Marianas government to lobby against congressional legislation to impede the free flow of immigrant labor to the islands from China and elsewhere in Asia, and impose a minimum hourly wage exceeding the island's standard rate of $3.05. (...)
In 1998, the group lobbied Congress against new regulations on cigarettes and collected a $100,000 donation from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. It also spent $75,863 that year on radio ads that called for President Clinton's resignation and attacked Democrats, according to the group's ledger and transcripts of the ads.
The following year, the National Republican Congressional Committee gave the USFN a $500,000 check to finance additional radio ads in the districts of vulnerable Democrats. Buckham told the FEC he solicited the check, and others told FEC investigators it was paid over the objections of the NRCC's director and chief counsel."
The Northern Marianas, cigarettes, and attack ads in vulnerable democrats' districts. Sounds pro-family to me!
Buckham didn't even do right by all the members of his very own family:
"The board also agreed at its final meeting in January 2001 to pay $150,000 to the Dorothy Joan Morris Foundation. The minutes state this was done at the request of "the gentleman who donated the largest amount of money to USFN" -- a term that Geeslin said is a euphemism for Buckham's fundraising.
Incorporation papers on file with the Maryland Secretary of State list the foundation's location as an insurance company office in a strip mall in Frederick.
The papers state the foundation is in turn owned by another group, Foundation Ministries Inc., which has its legal address at the Frederick home of the Buckhams.
Dorothy Joan Morris is the name of the 79-year-old mother of a former Buckham assistant named Roger Albanese, who is described in USFN documents as collecting roughly $20,000 from the group for "program services related to prayer." She says she never authorized the use of her name for the foundation, was never told about the $150,000 donation and never saw any of the proceeds.
"What rights does he [Buckham] have to put that in my name?" asked Morris, who said she lives with her husband in a trailer home parked in Las Vegas. "It's fishy.""
You could say that.
It is not news that Tom DeLay and his aides have engaged in conduct that is, at the very least, pretty dubious. But what bears repeating is this: the Republicans in the House voted for this man as majority leader again and again. What do you think the odds are that they didn't know about the various shakedown schemes that he and his aides had going? And what does it say about them that, apparently, they didn't care?
"But there was also the little matter of Serbia, where Russia was openly supporting Milosevic in his genocidal campaign and Bill Clinton, over strong Republican objections, was trying to stop him. Recall that it was DeLay who engineered a public humiliation for the President while the (eventually successful) bombing campaign was going on. The Republican leadership told Clinton that there would be enough Republican votes to pass a resolution supporting the war effort. But that was a lie. DeLay actively lobbied to bring the GOP patriot count down to 31, defeating the motion on a tie vote. No one can say for sure how much that gesture of support for Belgrade against NATO extended the bombing campaign, or how many Serbs and Kosovars were killed or displaced as a result. But the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, at a time when American airmen were risking their lives in the face of the enemy, chose to help the enemy.
With Russian money in his pocket. Feh."