The U.S. Family Network, a public advocacy group that operated in the 1990s with close ties to Rep. Tom DeLay and claimed to be a nationwide grass-roots organization, was funded almost entirely by corporations linked to embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to tax records and former associates of the group.
During its five-year existence, the U.S. Family Network raised $2.5 million but kept its donor list secret. The list, obtained by The Washington Post, shows that $1 million of its revenue came in a single 1998 check from a now-defunct London law firm whose former partners would not identify the money's origins.
Two former associates of Edwin A. Buckham, the congressman's former chief of staff and the organizer of the U.S. Family Network, said Buckham told them the funds came from Russian oil and gas executives. Abramoff had been working closely with two such Russian energy executives on their Washington agenda, and the lobbyist and Buckham had helped organize a 1997 Moscow visit by DeLay (R-Tex.).
Okay. $2.5 million. The new question: where did that money go?
But the records show that the tiny U.S. Family Network, which never had more than one full-time staff member, spent comparatively little money on public advocacy or education projects. Although established as a nonprofit organization, it paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to Buckham and his lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group.
There is no evidence DeLay received a direct financial benefit, but Buckham's firm employed DeLay's wife, Christine, and paid her a salary of at least $3,200 each month for three of the years the group existed. Richard Cullen, DeLay's attorney, has said that the pay was compensation for lists Christine DeLay supplied to Buckham of lawmakers' favorite charities, and that it was appropriate under House rules and election law.
Some of the U.S. Family Network's revenue was used to pay for radio ads attacking vulnerable Democratic lawmakers in 1999; other funds were used to finance the cash purchase of a townhouse three blocks from DeLay's congressional office. DeLay's associates at the time called it "the Safe House."
DeLay made his own fundraising telephone pitches from the townhouse's second-floor master suite every few weeks, according to two former associates. Other rooms in the townhouse were used by Alexander Strategy Group, Buckham's newly formed lobbying firm, and Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC), DeLay's leadership committee.
They paid modest rent to the U.S. Family Network, which occupied a single small room in the back.
The piece, which appears to be a solid investigative piece by the WaPo (they list seven people who worked on the story), says that there was nothing illegal about the $1 million Russian
bribe contribution. But the money, however laundered, was then used to finance radio attack ads against Democrats? Somehow, that doesn't seem too legal.
Nor does the fact that the rest of the money was used to subsidize the headquarters of a firm that paid DeLay's wife a salary.