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Novak: Conservatives may resign from board if DeLay hired as lobbyist; Obama running in 2008

Ron Brynaert
Published: Monday December 25, 2006
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In a Christmas Eve column for the Chicago Sun-Times, conservative columnist Robert Novak claims he has heard of potential resignations of board members at the American Conservative Union, should former GOP Texas Congressman Tom DeLay, who was indicted on state campaign finance charges, be hired as a lobbyist for the organization.

Ex-Rep. DeLay told the The New York Times just last week that he would be announcing some new "career moves" soon, but said that the "one career that he was not considering" would be lobbying.

Two former aides for DeLay "have pleaded guilty to corruption charges involving the lobbyist Jack Abramoff," Philip Shenon wrote for The Times. "Federal prosecutors have never directly suggested that Mr. DeLay was in their sights in the Abramoff investigation, though friends have said Mr. Abramoff’s guilty plea last January prompted Mr. DeLay’s resignation from Congress."

One ex-aide, Tony Rudy, served as the deputy chief of staff and press secretary for the former House Majority Leader, while the other one, Michael Scanlon, left his job as communications director when DeLay was Majority Whip to join Preston Gates Ellis and Rouvelas Meeds, where he became a member of Abramoff's one-time lobbying team. Both have reportedly agreed to testify, as part of their plea agreements, against Abramoff and anyone else who may be indicted in the still ongoing corruption probes.

"Friends say that despite his friendship with Mr. Abramoff and other free-spending lobbyists, Mr. DeLay is not a rich man, and needs to stay employed, especially given the fees charged by his teams of criminal defense lawyers in Texas and Washington," the Times reported.

The ACU and Tom DeLay

But opposition from conservatives may put a crimp into DeLay's latest, alleged "career move" plans.

"Although DeLay is highly regarded among conservatives in the face of his prosecution by a Democratic district attorney in Austin, such support is not universal," Novak writes. "At least two of the group's board members have threatened to resign if the deal with DeLay is consummated."

According to the ACU website, "The American Conservative Union is the nation's oldest and largest grassroots conservative lobbying organization."

The group is most known for its annual "Rating of Congress," which measures each Congressional member on a scale of 0 to 100, based on their "adherence to conservative principles." DeLay received an 88 score in 2005, down from a perfect 100 rating in 2004.

Political consultant Marc Rotterman, treasurer for the American Conservative Union, recently took aim at DeLay in a Human Events Online column republished at the ACU website. Rotterman blamed GOP losses on a "Bush Administration [which] has been hijacked by neo-conservatives who believe in 'big government conservatism,'" and have forgotten former President Reagan's "populist conservative message."

"Economic conservatives could not understand it when the Bush White House teamed up with Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D-Mass) on 'big government' legislation such as the No Child Left Behind Act and the Medicare prescription drug bill," Rotterman wrote. "And they could not understand why 'conservative' leaders such as former Rep. Tom DeLay carried the water for the President on behalf of this massive expansion of government."

Rotterman served on the national staff for Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign and his Raleigh, DC-based public relations and government-consulting firm, Rotterman & Associates, "helped raise over $500,000 by organizing several events for then Governor George W. Bush’s presidential efforts in North Carolina" during the 2000 race (ACU bio).

It is unknown whether Rotterman is one of the potential "insurgents" referred to in Novak's column. While he is the organization's treasurer and is a featured ACU columnist, Rotterman isn't listed as a member of its board of directors.

On the other hand, in March of 2005, Leadership Institute president Morton C. Blackwell, who serves on the ACU's Board of Directors, wrote an "open letter to conservatives," asking for help to do "something effective against the leftist organizations and liberal media who have launched truly vicious attacks on U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay."

"Virtually every conservative cause has benefited greatly from the devotion and skill of Tom DeLay," Blackwell wrote in an ACU press release. "He fights our battles beside us. We owe him our strongest support now."

Two months after Blackwell's letter, the ACU sponsored a salute to DeLay, which had been planned for some time, according to Free Congress Foundation's Paul Weyrich, but may have been "hastened" after DeLay's "troubles came along." The Washington Post reported that tickets for the "testimonial banquet," as opposed to "fundraising event," ranged in cost from "$250, $2,000 per table or $20,000 to be a member of the host committee."

Twenty-four conservatives sit on ACU's board of directors, including Grover G. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), who has been implicated in the Abramoff scandal, for among other things, helping to reroute money from an Abramoff lobbying client through the ATR to help fund a "pro-gambling campaign" led by former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed and other anti-gambling activists.

"After Republicans took control of the House in early 1995, Abramoff immediately made himself an integral part of the GOP fundraising effort," TPMmuckraker's Paul Kiel wrote for Washington Monthly in a column on National Journal reporter Peter Stone's book Heist, which was subtitled "Superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, his Republican allies, and the buying of Washington."

"That February, Stone reports, Norquist wrote to DeLay, who’d just become majority whip," Kiel continued. "It 'would probably be worthwhile for Jack Abramoff to stop by and brief you on the ‘K’ Street Project,' Norquist wrote, adding that Abramoff 'is moving his clients to help our side, both through PACs and through giving to our coalition groups.'"

Another prominent ACU board member, National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, supported DeLay in a mailing sent out this past spring as part of a "broad direct-mail and telemarketing campaign to attract new donors and volunteers for the former majority leader’s reelection," one month before DeLay announced that he was bowing out of the race and would be resigning from Congress. Even though the mailings came out before an "unusual four-way Texas primary," which DeLay ended up winning without the need for a runoff, the focus of the campaign was former Democratic Rep. Nick Lampson, who will now be taking over DeLay's vacated 22nd District seat after defeating write-in candidate Shelley Sekula-Gibbs in November's midterm election.

"The NRA mailer sent out by the DeLay campaign includes a historical comparison of DeLay and Lampson done by the Gun Owners of America, in which DeLay earned an A to Lampson’s C, and a statement from NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre praising DeLay’s advocacy on behalf of gun owners," Patrick O'Connor reported for The Hill in March.

DeLay blog's traffic 'surges' then plummets

After giving up his seat, "the Hammer's" last "career move" was to enter the blogosphere, setting up shop on the Internet at TomDeLay.com. The same web address that used to host the former Congressman's campaign site has now been transformed into the home for "Tom DeLay’s Grassroots Action and Information Network."

According to DeLay's blog, GAIN aims to be "a new force for change inside the American conservative movement, and a staunch opponent of secular progressive pressure groups and radical leftist agendas wherever they may be found in the United States."

RAW STORY reported on DeLay's blogging efforts on December 10 (Former Rep. DeLay, indicted on state campaign finance charges, begins new 'career' as blogger). MNBC's Keith Olbermann later mocked DeLay for admitting on Hardball that he wasn't "a very good writer," which forced him to recruit "ghost bloggers" to help produce his posts.

"I have the ideas and I have somebody else put the words together," DeLay admitted.

Olbermann retorted that DeLay doesn't understand that one of the points of having a blog is "to blog."

Although DeLay's blog traffic received an early boost after RAW STORY - and liberal blogs such as Crooks and Liars and Think Progress - first reported on the site, a search at Alexa's traffic rankings reveals that the "surge" ended over a week before Christmas.

Obama running in 2008

In the same column, Novak reports that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) has made up his mind and will be running for president and that his strength is, in part, responsible for potential rival Senator Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) recent statements that she would have opposed the resolution approving the invasion of Iraq, if she had full knowledge of the information which came to light afterwards.

According to Novak, gossip regarding security fears based on the senator's race isn't a factor anymore.

"The word has spread through political circles that Obama's wife, Michelle, is resisting the campaign out of fear for her husband's physical safety as an African-American candidate for president," Novak writes. "But an Obama insider dismissed that as a problem."

The insider allegedly said, "We took care of that last summer."

The full column by Novak may be read at this link.