Buckle-up your seatbelts. Then go read this Post article on Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Russian arms-and-oil hustlers, a piggy bank called the U.S. Family Network and a whole lot more.
First off, this is a helluva piece of reporting. And the story the author, R. Jeffrey Smith, tells has so many moving parts that it's not easy to summarize. If you want all the details, just go read the thing. It'll be time well spent.
The key points, though, ran as follows, near as I can tell.
For five years in the late 1990s there was an outfit called the U.S. Family Network, a pretty classic astroturf operation and, like a number of them, pretty closely linked with Tom DeLay.
Only USFN did little or no public advocacy on behalf of conservative family issues or much of anything else. It seems to have been run pretty much as a piggy bank and money pass-through by and for a number of DeLay operators -- including Jack Abramoff and Ed Buckham.
The Marianas Island sweatshop folks chipped in half a million dollars; the Choctaws chipped in a quarter million; and some shadowy Russian oil and gas interests (also Abramoff clients) ponied up a cool million dollars for USFN -- money laundered through a now-defunct British law firm. (The Russians apparently wanted to give DeLay a fancy car; but DeLay's folks suggested that might cause problems.)
Basically everybody who gave was getting something from DeLay; and USFN was the coin machine. As Smith puts it, rather prosaically, "records, other documents and interviews call into question the very purpose of the U.S. Family Network, which functioned mostly by collecting funds from domestic and foreign businesses whose interests coincided with DeLay's activities while he was serving as House majority whip from 1995 to 2002, and as majority leader from 2002 until the end of September. (italics added)"
And what did the money from USFN go for? A ton of it seems to have been cycled back to Ed Buckham's firm, The Alexander Strategy Group -- one of key money gatekeepers in the DeLay machine. Some went for attack ads against Democrats and other political operations. A pretty sizeable chunk was ...
used to finance the cash purchase of a townhouse three blocks from DeLay's congressional office. DeLay's associates at the time called it "the Safe House."
DeLay made his own fundraising telephone pitches from the townhouse's second-floor master suite every few weeks, according to two former associates. Other rooms in the townhouse were used by Alexander Strategy Group, Buckham's newly formed lobbying firm, and Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC), DeLay's leadership committee.
They paid modest rent to the U.S. Family Network, which occupied a single small room in the back.
Like I said, you can read all the lurid details in the piece. But let's back up for a moment to get a look at the big picture.
What's going on here? Abramoff's involved in this one; but not just him -- one-time partner and (surprisingly dangerous to Abramoff) eventual rival Ed Buckham. Foreign and domestic corporations pay money in to front groups for favors. And what happens to the money? Lots certainly goes to personally enrich the chief lobbyists like Abramoff and Buckham. But look closely and you'll see that lots gets pumped back in to the machine -- the capitol hill 'safe house', political ads, money to the consultancies that no doubt underwrites other political operations, 'grassroots' and otherwise.
It's like we've been telling you for months. This is a slush fund. Lots of secret money, often from overseas, that can get spread around off the books in DC. That's how this sort of political machine works.