DeLay Teaches Blunt

John B. Judis at The New Republic has a good piece on just how much Roy Blunt learned from Tom DeLay about money and politics:

"[Blunt]" owes his rise in the House to the Texas congressman. But he may also one day blame DeLay for his fall, because DeLay appears to have taught him not only how to count votes and woo lobbyists, but arguably how to play fast and loose with campaign finance ethics....

In 1999, Blunt set up Rely on Your Beliefs, a leadership PAC that had a "non-federal" component governed by Missouri law. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance law has since made it illegal for federal officials to raise money for such PACs. Judis writes how Blunt's PAC operated in a routine fashion until 2000, when suddenly its activities bore the imprint Tom DeLay:

But the PAC's activities from January through June 2000 raise all kinds of questions. During that time, Blunt's PAC raised $190,025. This included $150,000 from the fund that DeLay's PAC, ARMPAC, had set up to stage events at the 2000 Republican convention. (Blunt also raised 3,000 from the Concorde Garment Manufacturing Co. of the Northern Mariana Islands, one of the firms that lobbyist Jack Abramoff was trying to protect from American labor laws.) So, including the money it already had on hand from the previous period and accrued interest, the PAC had $252,788.43 to spend.

Of that amount, it spent only $126,000 on candidate or party contributions. Much of the money went to the Byzantine network of lobbying and political consulting firms hat DeLay had established with his former aides Ed Buckham and Jim Ellis. (Buckham has since become known for his ties with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and Ellis for being indicted in Austin along with DeLay and another associate.) Blunt's non-federal PAC paid $70,000 to Alexander Strategy Group, which Buckham set up in 1998 with a huge initial lobbying contract that DeLay secured from Enron. DeLay's wife, Christine, also worked for the Alexander Strategy Group and for ARMPAC, which was run by Ellis.

But the connections don't end there. Alexander Strategy and ARMPAC operated out of a Washington, D.C. townhouse that the U.S. Family Network, another DeLay-Buckham-Ellis operation, had purchased. In the first quarter of 2000, Blunt's non-federal PAC paid rent to the U.S. Family Network. In the second quarter, it paid rent to Ellis's consulting firm. Blunt's PAC also contributed $10,000 to the DeLay foundation.

From July 1, 1999 to July 1, 2000, Blunt's PAC gave $83,454.03 to DeLay-linked causes and consultants. That raises the question of whether ARMPAC was using Blunt's PAC to recycle contributions to DeLay's family and his political network. That may not be against the law; but I would argue that it's not exactly ethical either.

Judis notes that Blunt's PAC used DeLay-style tactics to benefit his his son, Matt, who was running for secretary of state, contributing to MO Republican party organizations that then contributed to the campaign.

But ethics rules aside, the records at the very least show that soon after Blunt became DeLay's chief deputy whip, DeLay initiated him into the practice of funneling contributions from one PAC to another. Perhaps fat cats and lobbyists don't care what happens to their money, but some contributors to DeLay's ARMPAC convention fund, who thought they were paying for events at the 2000 Republican convention, may not have wanted to fund Blunt's non-federal PAC. And they may not have wanted Blunt's PAC, in turn, to contribute to the Alexander Group, which employed DeLay's wife, or to help Blunt's son win election as secretary of state...

Voters have a right to know these kinds of details. But Blunt and DeLay's machinations denied them this information. Were their actions legal? As far as I know, yes. Were they ethical? Not even close.

Well said.