More recently, a shadowy network of partisan political organizations set up under DeLay's umbrella to collect both regulated and unregulated campaign cash led Representative Patrick Kennedy to file a racketeering lawsuit against DeLay and his allies. Though the suit itself was a blatant political stunt, it did serve to highlight the fast-and-loose money-changing by the majority whip's organizations, collectively dubbed "DeLay Inc." Scott Hatch, a former DeLay aide who headed the National Republican Campaign Committee, told the Washington Post in 1999, "DeLay Incorporated is one of the most savvy, aggressive political teams ever built."
DeLay Inc. starts with Americans for a Republican Majority PAC (ARMPAC), a leadership PAC that collected $3.4 million in 2000, more than doubling its '98 total, with contributions from banks, oil companies, drug-makers, Merrill Lynch, Microsoft, Philip Morris and the National Rifle Association. Key DeLay aides--including Jim Ellis, ARMPAC's director; Ed Buckham, DeLay's former chief of staff and closest political adviser; and Karl Gallant, ARMPAC's former director--then helped set up or fund the Republican Majority Issues Committee (RMIC), Americans for Economic Growth, the U.S. Family Network and ROMP (Retain Our Majority Program), all of which were designed to funnel campaign cash and organize support for House members in close races.
Most controversial was RMIC. Taking advantage of a series of loopholes in campaign laws and Federal Election Commission rules, DeLay's RMIC announced its intention to raise $25 million for House Republicans, taking donations in unlimited amounts of money, not disclosing the donors' identities and then using the money to run commercials in key House districts. The concept behind RMIC was an unprecedented end run around the FEC, giving rise to copycat groups and threatening yet another major unraveling of campaign finance regulation. DeLay's blatant, in-your-face defense of RMIC led to a major outcry last summer, and, over DeLay's objections, Congress passed a bill regulating these "Section 527" organizations, forcing them to disclose their donors and putting a severe crimp into DeLay Inc. Yet DeLay remains the Republican Party's fundraiser-in-chief and, along with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, its staunchest opponent of campaign finance reform.
For Bush, DeLay's sometime recklessness is worrisome, though his power in Congress will be indispensable to the President-elect. Most likely DeLay will keep his raucous partisanship under control while helping to advance Bush's conservative agenda. One indication of DeLay's ability to restrain his baser instincts came during the 2000 campaign, when the majority whip stayed on-message with the Bush team, not rocking the Congressional boat and coordinating with Austin on issues like tax cuts, a patients' bill of rights, a prescription drug benefit for Medicare and other hot-button issues.
If DeLay does go overboard, it's likely to be on the environment. He ran a pest-control business in Texas before going into politics, and the former exterminator seems to harbor a pathological distaste for the Environmental Protection Agency, which he once compared to the Gestapo. After 1995 DeLay tried to repeal the Clean Air Act, fought to cut the EPA's enforcement budget by a third and helped add a series of environmental riders to appropriations bills in close coordination with lobbyists for polluters. In addition, he's been the chief backer of Project Relief and similar antiregulatory efforts aimed at a wholesale undoing of health, safety and environmental protections.
If DeLay rallies conservatives to the far-right agenda, he could steer Congress toward a series of bloody shipwrecks over trillion-dollar tax cuts, privatization of Social Security and Medicare, school vouchers and a deregulatory jihad. Yet with Congress divided sharply, such a radical agenda would engender enormous opposition, and DeLay knows it. Far more likely, he will orchestrate a relentless series of incremental steps in the first six months of the Bush Administration--including scattered tax cuts, tort reform, a late-term-abortion ban and a missile defense system--that cumulatively advance the right's agenda. That strategy will allow him to slowly but steadily pull the entire government to the right, culminating in the development of a budget for 2002 whose thousands of line items--which fund government departments, programs and independent agencies like EPA and OSHA--will by sheer volume overwhelm the ability of liberals and Democrats to block them.
And through all of it, DeLay will remain Bush's implementer, and they are likely to work well together. "Tom DeLay is a Main Street Republican, a blue-collar Republican, and George Bush is more of a white-collar Republican," says Rusbuldt, the insurance lobbyist and DeLay Kitchen Cabinet member. "But I think they complement each other, and I believe they'll work in a collaborative manner and rely on each other's strengths. Neither can be successful without the other."