U.S. President George W. Bush suffered a significant blow to his already problematic second presidential term after a key Respublican Tom DeLay indictment. It is a blow against a national political machine that blurs the lines between parties, interest groups and the relentless pursuit of political money.
Defenders of politicians under attack typically say, no matter what the abuse is: "But everybody does it." That excuse does not work here. DeLay, who was forced to step down as House majority leader, was a pioneer in something entirely new: a fully integrated political apparatus that linked Republican Party committees, lobbyists, fundraisers, corporations, ideological organizations and the process of governing itself.
There was a candid shamelessness, even genius, about how the operation worked. Traditional limits on what was permitted in politics were dismissed as the obsessions of squishes and goo-goos, a term coined long ago to deride advocates of good government.
Because DeLay's defenders want to gloss over the facts, it's important to understand the specifics of the indictment brought by Ronnie Earle, the Democratic district attorney in Travis County. The charges offer a fine summary of how the new machine politics works.
DeLay and two associates are accused of raising $155,000 from six corporations for a special political action committee he established, Texans for a Republican Majority. The PAC, in turn, wrote a check for $190,000 to the Republican National State Elections Committee, reports Washington Post.
Within hours of DeLay's indictment, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent a 2006 fundraising e-mail about it. The National Republican Congressional Committee accused Democrats of hypocrisy, noting that DCCC head Rahm Emanuel of Illinois said he wouldn't return $5,000 in political contributions from Chicago lawyer Joseph Cari unless he pleaded guilty to extortion. Cari, a former party finance director, pleaded guilty Sept. 14 of participating in a scheme to direct state pension money to businesses in exchange for campaign cash. Emanuel said he gave the $5,000 to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
Republicans "have to answer to their voters for why they think that Tom DeLay's contributions are so important that they refused to part with them," DCCC spokesman Bill Burton said.
Republican strategist Frank Luntz reminded a group of House members Thursday, "You owe (DeLay) your majority. He's where he is today because he sacrificed himself to gain those extra seats."
Luntz said, "You dance with the one that brought you," adding that making refunds is "ridiculous."
Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a New York moderate, received $5,000 last year to beat a conservative primary challenger. "I haven't given it a second thought," he said about giving the money back. "It was legally raised and legally dispensed."
It's unclear whether DeLay's indictment will taint Republicans next year. A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll in April found that 38% had an unfavorable opinion about DeLay. But nearly as many, 35%, had never heard of him or had no opinion of the then-majority leader, informs USA Today.