Sunday, January 08, 2006

Feds Interest In Russian Payments May Be DeLay's Undoing

DeLay’s decision to abandon his efforts to reclaim the House Majority Leader’s position may have to do with federal prosecutors’ interest in a $1 million payment Russian energy interests funneled to the US Family Network, a non-profit group with strong ties to both DeLay and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The U.K. Telegraph reports that a British law firm facilitated the $1 million payment from Russian oil and gas executives seeking to influence U.S. legislation in 2000.

The payment was arranged through Washington lobbyist Ed Buckham of the Alexander Strategy Group, who also ran the now-defunct U.S. Family Network. Buckham is a close friend of Delay’s and formerly served as his chief of staff. According to the New York Times, Buckham and his lobbying firm “promoted the idea that it could deliver access to Mr. Delay.” The Russians were, according to Buckam, interested in seeking DeLay’s support for legislation backing an International Monetary Fund bail-out of Russia. The $1 million transfer from a foreign source to a small advocacy group in Washington “would raise several red flags” and is “extremely unusual” according to Marcus Owens, a former Senior IRS official, reported the Telegraph. It is the group’s largest single donation.

The Telegraph reported that DeLay, Abramoff and Buckham all met with the Russian gas and oil executives both before and after the $1 million payment was made. The British law firm involved in the transfer reportedly assisted Abramoff and DeLay in arranging a trip DeLay made to Moscow in 1997.

The New York Times is reporting that federal investigators are taking a close look at Buckham and his Alexander Strategy Group. “While doing business with lobbyists is routine for most lawmakers, investigators are looking at the extent to which Mr. DeLay and other lawmakers may have accepted trips, campaign donations and other favors from Alexander Strategy, and in turn tried to help the business,” the New York Times reports. The paper reports that Alexander Strategy made payments to DeLay’s wife totaling $115,000 in consulting fees while conducting business with Abramoff’s firm. Alexander Strategy also shared clients with Abramoff, including Indian tribes which Abramoff had admitted he defrauded.

Alexander Strategy has also been linked to the conviction of Rep. Randy Cunningham last year on charges he accepted $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors. The defense contractors, which were alleged to have made payoffs to Cunningham, were also clients of Alexander Strategy. DeLay frequently used a plane owned by the defense contractor involved in bribing Cunningham.

Alexander Strategy has been regarded as the crown jewel of the K Street Project, which was spear-headed by Rep. DeLay to ensure that lobbying work would be harnessed by Republican affiliated lobbyists. In 2004, the New York Times reports that Alexander Strategy performed $8.8 million in lobbying work, a large sum for a relatively new and small firm. Its clients included Indiana’s Eli Lilly and Company, as well as Microsoft, UPS and Time Warner.

One of DeLay’s former colleagues, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, is very blunt in describing DeLay’s relationship with Alexander Strategy according to the Times. "Tom DeLay sent Buckham downtown to set up shop and start a branch office on K Street," Mr. Armey said. "The whole idea was, 'What's in it for us?' That's what I thought at the time, and I've seen nothing in the way they've conducted themselves since then to dissuade me from that point of view."

This all makes very clear that when the true facts are known about the extent of corrupt lobbying taking place in Washington surrounding the Abramoff-DeLay crowd, a lot of prominent politicians and respected businesses are going to come out smelling pretty bad.

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