Corruption poster boy DeLay faces challenger

HOUSTON – Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) may be in trouble in his re-election bid this fall. If he loses, it could help end GOP control of the House.

The former House Majority Leader has been dubbed the “poster boy for corruption in Washington” by his Democratic challenger, Nick Lampson. Lampson is one of several Texas congressional Democrats who were pushed out two years ago as a result of DeLay’s notorious redistricting plan.

DeLay faces several Republican challengers in the March 7 primaries, whereas Lampson, who has labor firmly behind him, is running unopposed.

This is but the tip of the iceberg of DeLay’s troubles. He is fighting an indictment on charges of illegal fundraising in Texas. He is also under scrutiny by federal prosecutors for his dealings with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The Houston Chronicle reports DeLay’s defense fund is now in the red. He raised $590,520 in 2005, but his legal expenses were more than $1 million.

DeLay’s contributors are a who’s who of the wealthy elite in Texas. They include Robert McNair, an oil and gas billionaire who owns the Houston Texans; Robert J. Allison Jr., chairman emeritus of Anadarko Petroleum Co.; Nina Hendee, co-owner of the Taste of Texas restaurants, and her husband Edd Hendee, a conservative Houston radio talk show host; and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., a chicken processor.

Public Citizen, which monitors money in politics, notes that DeLay’s support is falling. Less than 15 percent of Republicans in the House have contributed to his defense fund, signaling that many of his own party members “want a break with the ethically challenged leadership of the party,” a researcher for the group said.

DeLay has been claiming that he was in no way close to Abramoff. But local newspapers have run earlier DeLay quotes calling Abramoff a “close and dear friend.”

On Feb. 8, Republican House leaders rewarded DeLay with a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee. He will also be on the subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department, which is investigating Abramoff and his role in an influence-peddling scandal involving members of Congress. Many see DeLay as the fox guarding the henhouse on this committee.

Lampson’s web site makes the point that DeLay continues to embarrass Texas with his shenanigans. He notes that DeLay voted against a Republican-sponsored lobbying reform bill. The measure passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

DeLay told Chamber of Commerce members the ethics reform effort is “driven by the left-wing groups like Common Cause, Democracy 21, ACLU and others.”

Gerry Birnberg, Harris County Democratic Party chairman, speaking on Texas Southern University radio station KTSU, pointed out that the large number of people from New Orleans who resettled in DeLay’s district following Hurricane Katrina could determine the election’s outcome. They are not likely to vote for “the poster boy of corruption in Washington.”