Recently, the Washington Post and TPMmuckraker.com have been reporting on the DeLay-Buckham front group, U.S. Family Network. Ed Buckham, you'll remember, was Tom DeLay's Chief of Staff until he left the Hill to open up his lobby shop, Alexander Strategy Group. USFN purported to be a grassroots activist group pushing causes dear to social conservatives. In fact, it functioned as a slush fund and all-purpose political favor mill through which Jack Abramoff clients (Russian tycoons, Marianas sweatshop owners and the Mississippi Choctaw Indian tribe) funneled money to Buckham, his lobbying shop and other DeLay causes.
One thread of the USFN story was the townhouse it bought near Capitol Hill. Called the "Safe House" by former Majority Leader Tom DeLay's aides, it was the headquarters for DeLay's ARMPAC, Buckham's lobby shop, Alexander Strategy Group, and of course it even had a little office for the USFN itself.
By 2000 the FEC was starting to look into the USFN, and the USFN's Capitol Hill neighbors had begun to complain that it was a business operating in a residential area in violation of local zoning laws. In their big piece on the U.S. Family Network yesterday, the Washington Post reported that when Buckham's USFN had to part with the beloved "Safe House" in late 2000 it took a $19,000 loss.
Now, that got us to wondering. A loss of that scale is far from Duke Cunningham territory. But the DC housing market was pretty hot back then and the USFN held the property for just about 2 years.
So who got such a good deal?
The buyer was Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS).
D.C. property records show that the townhouse was sold to Ryun for $410,000 on December 15, 2000. According to the Post, the USFN purchased the townhouse for $429,000; the deed was signed January 12, 1999.
(To confirm that this was the same Jim Ryun, we found this 2004 FEC contribution listing in which a Jim Ryun who identifies his profession as "congressman" lists the former "Safe House" address, 132 D Street, as his place of residence. Roll Call, it turns out, briefly noted Ryun's purchase on June 4th 2001, but long before the scope of Buckham's and Abramoff's bad acts had come to light.)
Property sold to a member of Congress at substantially under market value can, in some instances, be construed as a de facto gift. In this case, that would be from the Buckham-controlled and Abramoff-client-funded front group USFN to Rep. Ryun.
Naomi Seligman of CREW told TPMmuckraker.com that Ryun's house deal should prompt a House Ethics Committee investigation. "Who else in America has lost money on a real estate transaction except [Cunningham contractor felon] Mitchell Wade?"
According to Ryun spokesperson Michelle Schroeder, Rep. Ryun was on a plane Monday and unavailable for comment.