The beaming bobblehead doll that just arrived in a Capitol Hill
bookshop is a far cry from the Tom DeLay once described by Clinton
aides as "downright scary, even when he tries to smile" - except for
the big hammer clenched in his fists.
"The Hammer" isn't his real nickname, at least not to those who
know him. "No one ever comes up to him and says, 'Hey, Hammer!' "
says spokesman Jonathan Grella. But the name was coined by the
Washington Press corps, and it stuck.
One reason is that Mr. DeLay is on track to become one of the
most powerful House leaders ever, unless derailed by the ethics
complaint filed last week by a Texas Democrat he helped defeat. On
Tuesday, the House Ethics Committee announced that the complaint by
Rep. Chris Bell met House standards and would go forward.
DeLay is not just a feisty pol. He is also a one-man fundraising
blizzard, directing millions to candidates and groups committed to
maintaining a GOP majority in Congress and state governments.
At issue in the complaint is whether he violated House ethics
rules and federal law in the process. Weeks before Representative
Bell's complaint, a coalition of public interest groups called on
the House to break a longstanding "truce" on ethics and investigate
"He is a huge target, because he is so aggressive in pursuing his
goals," says Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers
University. "Democrats have been forced to absorb a lot of
punishment, and ... they feel they need to retaliate."
Since 1998, his leadership political action committee (Americans
for a Republican Majority or ARMPAC) has raised over $10 million,
more than any leadership PAC on Capitol Hill. He's a virtual
investment banker for conservative groups that do not fall under
strict federal disclosure rules, such as the Republican Majorities
Issues Campaign and the US Family Network. Last month, a charity
associated with DeLay, Celebrations for Children Inc., canceled
plans for gala events at the Republican National Convention in New
York after critics charged that DeLay was using the charity to skirt
new campaign-finance laws that bar raising soft money from
corporations or trade unions for federal campaigns.
He's also taken hits for his role in micromanaging a new Texas
redistricting in 2003, including calling on the Federal Aviation
Administration to track Democratic lawmakers fleeing a key vote on
the plan. Analysts say the new plan could net the GOP six or seven
House seats in November, but set off a firestorm in Texas.
"Redistricting caused an enormous rift in the state legislature,
the kind of rift not seen in Texas politics since Reconstruction,"
says Robert Stein, Rice University social scientist. …