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Rogers Boosts DeLay Defense

After converting an old legal defense fund to help pay for a new ethics battle, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has begun raking in contributions with the help of a GOP lawmaker hoping to win a powerful chairmanship in the next Congress.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who is vying to become chairman of the Appropriations Committee next year, held a recent fundraiser for DeLay’s defense fund that netted nearly $160,000, according to the Kentucky Republican’s office.

DeLay received permission on July 14 from the House ethics committee to convert his defense fund to cover any legal bills stemming from an ethics complaint filed against him by Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas), according to Brent Perry, a Texas-based lawyer who is the trustee for the fund. “The trust funds will pay those bills as appropriate,” Perry said.

Rogers, who is jockeying with Reps. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) for the Appropriations Committee gavel next year, believes the Bell complaint is politically motivated, and said that was the reason behind his decision to hold a fundraiser in Lexington, Ky., for the defense fund. The event took place in mid-August. Aides to both DeLay and Rogers said they did not know if the Texas Republican attended the fundraiser.

“Tom DeLay has a lot of supporters in Kentucky who believe he is being maligned as part of a political witch hunt,” Rogers said in a statement released by his office.

“A number of people across the Commonwealth came to me and expressed interest in helping in this struggle by contributing to his legal defense fund. I was glad to assist in this effort.”

DeLay’s office also cited what they see as the political gamesmanship behind Bell’s complaint. “Tom DeLay has many supporters who fully understand the political motivations behind the current partisan attacks, and they have been generous in supporting his effort to combat this vilification campaign,” said Stuart Roy, DeLay’s communications director, in a statement given to Roll Call last week. “Of course we will properly disclose all contributions and contributors to the fund.”

According to reports filed with the Clerk of the House, there had been no contributions taken in by the DeLay defense fund from Jan. 1 to June 30 of this year, and approximately $53,000 was raised last year.

DeLay originally set up his legal defense fund in 2000 to help defray the cost of a civil racketeering lawsuit brought by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The DCCC alleged at the time that DeLay had engaged in a long pattern of extortion and money laundering in conjunction with three conservative groups run by close political allies, but eventually dropped its suit.

While vehemently denying the DCCC’s allegations, DeLay ran up more than $500,000 in legal bills defending himself. That debt has been paid off, according to Perry.

No information was available on what Bell’s complaint has cost DeLay so far.

In his ethics complaint, which was filed in June, Bell alleged that DeLay illegally solicited corporate contributions, misused his Texas PAC to launder contributions and then sent them to candidates for state office in Texas, and abused the powers of his office to intervene in a Lone Star State redistricting fight. DeLay has denied the charges and has asked the committee to dismiss the complaint.

The ethics panel could vote this week on whether to proceed with a full-blown investigation of Bell’s charges. The committee last week publicly admonished DeLay for offering to endorse the Congressional candidacy of retiring Rep. Nick Smith’s (R-Mich.) son in return for Smith’s vote in support of a controversial Medicare reform bill last November. (See related story.) It was the second time five years that DeLay has been formally admonished by the ethics panel.

On another legal front, three DeLay allies were indicted by a Texas grand jury last month on criminal charges of money laundering and illegally accepting campaign contributions from corporate donors. Eight corporations have been indicted for their donations for Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, funded by DeLay in 2001. DeLay has not been subpoenaed or even interviewed in that case.

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