For the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking back to something that happened back in the 2000 election cycle. The DCCC, then under the leadership of Rep. Patrick Kennedy filed a federal lawsuit against Tom DeLay, several of his allied committees and associates alleging racketeering and systematic extortion.
At the time, from my memory, the whole effort was more or less laughed off the political stage. The conventional wisdom was that, yes, DeLay played hardball but that he was nothing if not careful when it came to not crossing the bright legal lines.
Here’s the introduction from the press conference Kennedy and DCCC legal counsel Bob Bauer held on May 3rd, 2000. Any of this sound familiar? Give it a read.
REP. KENNEDY: Good afternoon. Fifteen minutes ago, the DCCC filed an action in federal district court aimed at ending the massive illegal conduct by the House Majority Whip, Tom DeLay, in the raising and spending of millions of dollars for his political purposes. Mr. DeLay is, unfortunately, conducting these activities under the color of his office as he seeks, through the use of systematic — systematic extortion to coerce the contributions of millions of dollars to Republicans and at the same time to intimidate those inclined to support Democrats.
Mr. DeLay is conducting these activities without public or legal accountability by raising and spending these monies through organizations he substantially or completely controls or directs — organizations which refuse to publicly account for their finances. Mr. DeLay hopes to carry out this scheme without public knowledge.
We cannot tolerate this conduct any longer. This legal action intends to put an end to it. Federal law provides the remedy through the anti-racketeering statute known as Civil RICO. It is specifically directed at certain types of illegal conduct such as the extortion and money laundering which constitutes the thrust of our case against Mr. DeLay and his organizations. The law provides, and we are seeking, an injunction against any further illegal conduct of this kind, as well as damages for this conduct over the past few years.
No one in this room can be surprised at the claims we’re making in this suit. Tom DeLay proudly bears his nickname, “The Hammer”; has boasted about the illicit pressures that he exerts on potential contributors and the threats against those he deems unfriendly.
This, after all, is the Tom DeLay who, quote, “required lobbyists visiting congressional offices to review a book which rated their PAC as neutral, friendly, or unfriendly and then to add their initials so that they had reviewed their own organization’s rating before they meet the majority whip”; threatened members of the business roundtable with an unfavorable legislative action if its members did not increase their support for Republicans or decrease their support for Democrats; threatened unfavorable action on legislation important to a major trade association if that association proceeded with plans to endorse or support the Democratic candidate in a congressional special election. These are just some of the examples. There are many others. And our action, which we’ll pursue vigorously, will bring even more to light.
There is a web of organizations established by associates of Mr. DeLay and run under his direction and substantial influence that operate without public disclosure or accountability. This web of organizations is used to conceal the nature and the source of this illegal political money operation, and it includes the Republican Majority Issues Conference, Americans for Economic Growth, and the U.S. Family Network. These organizations are seeking to evade the light of day, to conceal the source of their funds, their donors, and their expenditures as well as basic operations. Our suit will let the light back in.
Now, whenever one party sounds the alarm of illegal conduct by another, particularly where money’s involved, it’s easy and all too typical for observers to just shrug and say, “Well, everybody does it.” In this case, everybody does not do it. Never before has a senior congressional and party leader devised a scheme like this, hammering contributors for money, threatening to punish those who decline, and setting up a shadow party organization outside public view and outside our laws in order to make it possible. We have taken our case to federal court under federal law to assure that Mr. DeLay and his associates compete openly, fairly and credibly within the rules that we all have to abide by.
And now I’d like to introduce Bob Bauer, who is legal counsel for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, to take us through this claim so that you can understand it in more detail. Bob.
MR. BAUER: Let me first of all add a little bit more detail about the filing of the suit. The suit was filed around noon today, and it has already been assigned to Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson and will be heard in the ordinary course, as these matters are addressed, under the federal court system. Let me also walk through the factual background leading to the decision to prepare and file this suit.
As you know, in the last several months we have seen increasing evidence developed by independent reporting of the way in which Tom DeLay and his associates have proceeded to build a shadow political party organization. They’ve done so in two ways: by the most extraordinarily extortionate fundraising methods we have seen, certainly in my time in Washington and the time of anyone I’ve spoken with; and then the use of these proceeds to attempt to influence federal elections by washing them through unregistered organizations which do not report the source of their funds or the way in which they are being spent.
This is known as DeLay, Inc. And as you can see, and as independent reporting has established increasingly over the last several months, it is a very, in some sense, simple diagram showing the way in which these organizations are tightly bound to and operate under the substantial influence and direction of Tom DeLay. Mr. Buckham (sp), Galant (sp) and Mr. Ellis, close associates, working with organizations like the U.S. Family Network, an unregistered, non- reporting 501(c)(4) organization, or so it claims; RMIC, or the Republican Majority Issues Committee, again a 527 organization, which does not report what it receives or what it spends; the Americans for Economic Growth, a Section 501(c)(4) organization, again unregistered, which does not report what it receives and spends.
These three organizations, also defendants with Mr. DeLay in our action, are at the center of what we are alleging in this lawsuit. All of the individuals, who are substantially involved in controlling these organization with Mr. DeLay, are close political associates of long standing, and they make no bones about it. Those of you who have reviewed, as I said, the independent reporting on this matter understand the relationships here enjoyed by Messrs. Buckham (sp), Galant (sp) and Ellis with Mr. DeLay.
We have alleged what is described here for purposes of the civil RICO Statute, a pattern of racketeering activity consisting of (A) the way in which the money has been raised, through extortionate methods. And we detail in the complaint, for those of you who have not had a chance to review it, and I hope that you will at some length, those instances publicly known of this extortionate fundraising activity, directed against various persons who have interests before the United States Congress. It has been consistent, flagrant and continuous.
These organizations in the meantime have been established, again at the direction of Mr. DeLay, with his associates, as a means of receiving these monies without limitation, without compliance with federal election law and with no disclosure to the public and no accountability to the legal system, to prepare themselves to influence, as they have begun already to attempt to influence, Mr. DeLay’s overall project, which is to influence the House elections this fall and retain Republican control of the House of Representatives.
The complaint sets out the very specific illegal acts, which are requirements for pleading under this statute. And the specific illegal acts again specified under the statute and under which we plead today, are extortion and money laundering: extortion, which goes to the way Mr. DeLay raises his money; money laundering, the way in which he avoids public disclosure and washes the fruits of his illegal fundraising operation through these unregistered organizations, which do not disclose the source or object of their expenditures.
We are seeking in this case to make a substantial showing of the damages that we have suffered as a result of this continuing pattern of racketeering activity by Mr. DeLay and those who are defendants with him in this lawsuit. We are going to — as you note by the reference to the “Doe”s, the unnamed parties who have been identified as defendants in this case — going to unearth the identity of those we believe to be involved but do not yet have a substantial basis for adding to the suit. Certainly at the conclusion of this proceeding, we will know more about DeLay Inc. than we know today, and the suit will be accordingly amended, and the list of defendants will necessarily grow. And we will also see injunctive relief because, as Chairman Kennedy has said, this illegal political operation has to stop.
And let me conclude by saying that we have approached this very seriously because what we have seen and watch develop over the last couple of years is quite serious; and that is, for the first time, the development of a completely shadow political party organization, organized and directed by a senior member of Congress, funded through extortionate methods and operated through organizations which disclose as an essential element of this illegal operation — which refuse to disclose or account for the monies that they have received and will spend.
Thank you, Chairman Kennedy.
They called it what it was five years ago, racketeering and extortion. Certainly, they didn’t have all the details figured out. And when you look at what’s being investigated today, in 2000, heck, the fun was only really getting started in DeLayland. But they had the nub of what the operation was about. What happened to the case? And what was the reaction at the time from the established press worthies?