"You can't walk a straight line in crooked shoes," goes the saying. If you compare the ethics of Tom DeLay, Republican Majority Leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, to those of our own Mayor Martin Chavez, you can't help wondering whether they patronize the same cross-eyed cobbler.
Tom DeLay faces mounting troubles for benefiting personally from enormous expenditures of special interest money. New revelations of misconduct break weekly. People he helped make rich are now turning on him. In violation of House ethics rules, it appears DeLay enjoyed posh vacations and overseas trips paid by lobbyists. The Washington Post has reported that many of DeLay's travel expenses were charged to a lobbyist's credit card or paid by organizations acting as conduits so lobbyists could cover DeLay's bills without signing the checks themselves.
DeLay's setup, though grander in scale, looks an awful lot like Marty Chavez's ABQPAC scandal. Pile on the condemnation for DeLay. For the sake of the nation, let's pray he's gone soon. But what Chavez did with ABQPAC was just as bad, only on a local scale. By one measure, the ABQPAC scheme was worse because it put money straight into Marty's pockets.
ABQPAC was a political action committee designed to give money, one way or the other, to public officials. It was headed by C.M. "Bud" Dziak, an Albuquerque insurance broker, and pooled cash from people and firms who did business with the city. Lobbyists and high-level city employees appointed by the mayor also kicked in. ABQPAC then gave the money to principally one public official: His Honor, Marty Chavez.
The scheme was so blatant that when Chavez wanted money, he would simply tell Terri Baird, the mayor's chief of staff, who would contact ABQPAC, which would then write a check to Chavez. Sometimes checks were written to the account of his then-wife, Margaret Aragon de Chavez. ABQPAC did not even require anything in writing. All it took was a telephone call saying the mayor could use some dough. The checks came in nice round sums like $1,000, $3,500, even $10,000.
ABQPAC gave about $30,000 directly to Martin and Margaret Chavez. ABQPAC's records claim large amounts were given for purposes no more specific than "mayor expenses." ABQPAC also paid third parties about $30,000 in charges incurred by Chavez and his family, including cellphone bills, meals and hotels.
Public pressure forced Chavez to reimburse all the sums received directly or indirectly from ABQPAC. The ethics board later found that Chavez violated several provisions of the City Charter, including accepting gifts from people doing business with the city. But that was about it. They let Marty get back to his office, straightaway, with a feckless reprimand. Their slap on the wrist stopped stinging very quickly.
Chavez has never distanced himself from the players in ABQPAC. His lead re-election fundraiser is Terri Baird, his ABQPAC go-between. She recently arranged a $1,000 per person cocktail party that raised an estimated $100,000 in a single evening. Bud Dziak, ABQPAC's chief, has already given money six times to Chavez' campaign. Chavez' first report shows 76 gifts totaling more than $50,000 from the same people who appeared on ABQPAC's reports to the New Mexico Secretary of State.
And Chavez has yet to announce his candidacy.
DeLay will likely suffer no more severe consequences from the Republican dominated House Ethics Committee than Chavez received from the city's ethics board, which is appointed by the City Council and himself. Don't bet on the House Ethics Committee voting to recommend DeLay's removal from power. Last year, they let him get away with only a scolding for vote buying on the floor of the House of Representatives.
DeLay has his bases well covered for the coming fight. The current ethics committee chairman replaced a man whom DeLay could not completely dominate. Many Republicans on the committee have either given money to DeLay's defense fund, received money from sources controlled by DeLay, or both. It's sure nice having the ability to both pick and finance those charged with judging your conduct. For Marty, that luxury was on display in the presence of Harry Kinney, who was the mayor's appointed member of the city's ethics board during his hearing. Kinney at times made statements that seemed to indicate he had prejudged the case in the mayor's favor.
We should insist that Rep. Heather Wilson join the few GOP voices calling for DeLay's ouster. Last fall she voted against a change in House rules permitting DeLay to keep his position if indicted (which may still happen). Continuing to show independence will do more for her career in the long run than helping a man like DeLay continue to lead the party of Lincoln in the House of Representatives. Another act of true public service by Wilson would be remembered here in her district for years to come.
As for straightening out Marty Chavez' gait, it's futile. He's shown he's hopelessly fond of crooked shoes. What we need is someone with radically different tastes in footwear.