The “scandal” surrounding House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) has all the earmarks of a Washington feeding frenzy—which means, in short, that most ordinary Americans couldn’t care less. Financial shenanigans in the Imperial City? I’m shocked, I tell you—shocked! Yet there is a lesson here, albeit not the one the Democrats and other “good government” schoolmarms are wont to draw.
We are told that DeLay had hired members of his family to work on his campaigns. You might argue that this should be illegal, but it isn’t. They all do it, as the Los Angeles Times pointed out: “At least 39 members of Congress have engaged in the controversial practice of paying their spouses, children or other relatives out of campaign funds, or have hired companies in which a family member had a financial interest, records and interviews show. House campaign funds have paid more than $3 million to lawmakers’ relatives over the last two election cycles, records show.”
Next up is the trip to Russia that DeLay took, paid for by the National Center for Public Policy Research, which, the Washington Post assures us, “was underwritten by business interests lobbying in support of the Russian government, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the trip arrangements.”
DeLay avers that he thought his trip was underwritten by the Center—which would make it perfectly legal—but the Post insists that the junket was financed by “a mysterious company registered in the Bahamas that also paid for an intensive $440,000 lobbying campaign.” Newsweek is reporting that DeLay knew about these arrangements; DeLay denies it.
So it all boils down to dreary technicalities; the larger point, however, is this: These junkets are legal as long as the money is funneled through a nonprofit front group. DeLay went on his trip to Russia in 1997; that same year, the educational arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) paid for trips to Israel for 34 members of Congress. Every two years, AIPAC offers each new member of Congress a trip to Israel for a week to ten days. No one has said boo about it—and they won’t. It’s all part of the woof and warp of life for a Washington lawmaker.
In 1997, the year of DeLay’s alleged transgression, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), a major force on the International Relations Committee, went on 13 overseas junkets to seven countries. Congressional Quarterly quipped that “Lantos’ disclosure form resembles an airline flight schedule, with trips to Jordan, Ukraine, Israel and several to Lantos’ native Hungary. The trips were funded by a variety of groups, including Israeli organizations.”
The big problem for DeLay is that his journey to Muscovy benefited the wrong country. Russia, these days, is politically incorrect: Putin, we are told, is the New Stalin, and his country, which has not been complacent as the United States encircles her with color-coded coup d’etats, is on the neocons’ list of nations that need to be put in their proper place—i.e., on bended knee before the U.S. hegemon.
The Russian lobby in Washington sought to retain funding for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (one of those “public-private” corporate-welfare schemes that funnel federal tax dollars into politically favored businesses), and they wined and dined their way into DeLay’s good graces. How is this different from AIPAC shuttling newly elected members of Congress to Israel, all expenses paid, so that the Jewish state continues to scarf up the single-largest portion of our “foreign aid” budget?
Much is being made of the presence of two registered lobbyists for Russian interests on the 1997 trip, one of whom, Jack Abramoff, is at the center of an investigation into improper influence peddling. AIPAC, however, does not have to register as an agent of a foreign power, although the two recent FBI raids on its Washington headquarters would seem to suggest otherwise.
As long as we insist on lording it over the whole world, supplicants will stream to the seat of power in Washington and buy up as many of our “leaders” as they can afford. “They all do it” is not a moral defense, but then again, I am not defending “The Hammer,” as a person or as a political leader: I am merely pointing out that DeLay’s corruption is the corruption of empire.