Washington — In May 2001, Enron's top lobbyists in Washington advised the company chairman that then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, was pressing for a $100,000 contribution to his political action committee, in addition to the $250,000 the company had already pledged to the Republican party that year.
DeLay requested that the new donation come from "a combination of corporate and personal money from Enron's executives," with the understanding that it would be partly spent on "the redistricting effort in Texas," said the e-mail to Ken Lay from lobbyists Rick Shapiro and Linda Robertson.
The e-mail, which surfaced in a subsequent federal probe of Enron, is one of at least a dozen documents obtained by The Washington Post that show DeLay and his associates directed funds from corporations and Washington lobbyists to Republican campaign coffers in Texas in 2001 and 2002, as part of a plan to redraw the state's congressional districts.
DeLay's fund-raising efforts helped produce a stunning political success. Republicans took control of the Texas House for the first time in 130 years, Texas congressional districts were redrawn to send more Republican lawmakers to Washington, and Delay, now the House Majority Leader, is more likely to retain his powerful post after the November election, according to political experts.
But DeLay and his colleagues also face serious legal challenges: Texas law bars corporate financing of state legislature campaigns, and a Texas criminal prosecutor is in the 20th month of digging through the records of the fund raising, looking at possible violations of at least three statutes. A parallel civil lawsuit, also in the midst of discovery, is seeking $1.5 million in damages from DeLay's aides and one of his political action committees -- Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) -- on behalf of four defeated Democratic lawmakers.
DeLay has not been named as a target of the investigation. The prosecutor has said he is focused on the activities of political action committees linked to DeLay and the redistricting effort. But officials in the prosecutor's office say anyone involved in raising, collecting, or spending the corporate funds, who also knew of their intended use in Texas election races, is vulnerable.
DeLay declined to comment for this article. But his spokesman Stuart Roy said, "DeLay is doing everything moral, legal, and ethical to increase the Republican majority and advance conservative ideas. He raised legal campaign money for effective political activity, and that makes his critics enraged. Unfortunately, some Democrats are making an attempt to criminalize politics."
Cristen Feldman, the Texas lawyer who filed the civil suit, says in response, "I guess DeLay and his team forgot they were from Texas...(where) the prohibition against clandestine corporate cash is 100 years old."
DeLay's effort to build a Republican majority in the state legislature by channeling large campaign donations to Texas from lobbyists and corporations with interests before Congress dates at least from the 2000 election. In an e-mail dated July 24 of that year, Enron executive vice president Steven Kean advised colleagues that DeLay had sent notes to company executives "about designating portions of their contributions for use in Texas."
Three days later, Enron sent a check for $50,000 to the Republican National State Elections Committee (RNSEC) in Washington, and three top executives sent checks totaling $25,000. Around the same time, RNSEC transferred a total of $1.2 million to the Texas Republican Party, which in turn donated a total of $1.3 million to 20 legislative candidates that year, according to federal and state records.
Public records do not track the final destination of the Enron contribution. But Republican National Committee spokeswoman Christine Iverson said any corporate money sent to Texas by the RNSEC was spent only for allowable purposes. In 2001, DeLay assisted Enron in its efforts to secure deregulation legislation. Houston business lobbyist Anne Culver also sent executives at Enron and other energy firms an e-mail in March of that year stating that "Mr. DeLay is interested in what he and the other congressmen may be able to due (sic) legislatively to assist in addressing some of the issues we have" with pollution control rules.
DeLay also linked with Westar
Kansas-based Westar Energy, which in 2002 sought a federal tax break, gave $25,000 to win "a seat at the table" during congressional deliberations about the provision, even though it had no business in Texas, according to an internal company e-mail that surfaced in a criminal probe. Its executives joined DeLay at a Puerto Rico golf resort owned by a TRMPAC contributor that year. DeLay supported the tax break Westar wanted.