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Charity Ploy

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has always combined dedication to lofty purposes, especially religious values, with an utterly unidealistic — even ruthless — attitude about tactics. He has set an exemplary personal example of charity in adopting three children and serving as a foster parent for others. Yet, he also was chastised by the House ethics committee for trying to pressure a trade association not to hire a former Democratic Member as its president.

The latest display of DeLay’s simultaneous beneficence and expedience unfolded at the outset of this Congress when he pushed through a House rules change lifting gift restrictions so that Members can accept free trips to charity events. As it quickly developed, DeLay’s primary purpose was to attract “star power” — and corporate support — to his own golf tournament this April, benefiting the DeLay Foundation for Kids, whose purpose is to provide shelter for abused and neglected children in Fort Bend County, Texas.

Frankly, we’re amazed that more Members have not identified favorite charities as opportunities for special interests to buy influence. They would seem to be a natural. They can serve a worthy purpose, be it children, disease research, the arts or environmental betterment. They can add luster to a Member’s political persona. And they can offer special interests a place to show their appreciation for the Member’s performance. With soft money banned, we would expect more corporate money to find its way to politically connected charities. And, to add to the benefit, it’s tax deductible.

Once again, we find DeLay at the leading edge of a trend. He intends to raise $1 million this year at a golf tournament at the expensive Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Fla. In an invitation posted on his foundation’s Web site, DeLay and his wife, Christine, propose that attendees bring their families and spend a portion of Congress’ spring recess at the resort. That could cost thousands.

And who will pay? Why, lobbyists and special interests, of course. We’d guess they’ll fall over themselves to contribute, rub shoulders with Members and earn DeLay’s favor. Back in 1995, when he opposed the original imposition of a gift ban, DeLay argued that all gifts should be completely disclosed. We expect him now to make an open book of those participating in his golf tournament, and how much they gave and received.

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