DeLay Was Major CU Congressional Ally

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Last week's announcement that legally embattled Texas Congressman Tom DeLay is retiring from the House will remove a major credit union supporter from Congress.

DeLay, who is under indictment in Texas for allegedly rigging the 2004 congressional elections, has grown into an outspoken advocate of credit unions and went on record several times favoring the credit union tax exemption while he was House Majority Leader, a position he relinquished after last year's indictment.

One long-time credit union lobbyist described DeLay's transition from a disinterested observer during the 1998 campaign for HR 1151, the CU Membership Access Act, to a true believer in credit unions. He articulated his conversion in an article he wrote for CUNA's "Newswatch" two years ago.

"He saw politically that credit unions could be very helpful to the Republican Party, both because of the numbers of credit union members who are active and who vote, and as a way to help small businesses," said another lobbyist, who added that DeLay tried to dissuade Bill Thomas, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, from holding hearings last fall on the credit union exemption. "He's a very good friend for credit unions."

DeLay also worked with other Republican leaders behind the scenes to move the credit union-backed bankruptcy reform bill to a final vote on several occasions and to help lift the congressionally mandated cap on member business lending, which he viewed as a hindrance to small businesses, according to one credit union lobbyist.

DeLay's involvement in the bankruptcy reform initiative became a complicated one.

He supported credit unions' and other lenders efforts to rein in abuses in the consumer bankruptcy process, but in the end became sidetracked by the abortion issue, which threatened to derail to bankruptcy bill.

DeLay, an ardent opponent of abortion, ended up supporting an effort to strip language from the bill that would bar abortion clinic protestors from shielding their assets under bankruptcy law. This invited the veto of President Clinton after the bill had passed Congress.

In another instance, DeLay worked to support the credit union interests during the debate over the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and its numerous provisions over privacy of consumer data.

Buddy Gill, director of political affairs at the Texas CU League, said DeLay and his staff worked closely with credit unions on a number of issues.

"Tom DeLay was always a good credit union friend and always welcomed us into his office and listened to our concerns," Gill told The Credit Union Journal.

The seven-term House member made his decision a few days after a former top aide, Tony Rudy, pleaded guilty to criminal charges of bribery while he was working for Delay, and after another top aide, Michael Scanlon, pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the ongoing influence-peddling trial of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a close DeLay ally.

DeLay's own legal troubles center around his role in the scheme to redistrict the congressional map in Texas to the advantage of the Republicans.

A grand jury in Texas has charged DeLay with money laundering and conspiracy, charging that DeLay and his staff conspired to illegally funnel corporate contributions to state candidates, helping the GOP win control of the Texas legislature.

The state legislature then took the rare opportunity to redraw the congressional districts in the middle of the decade-most states redistrict at the end of the census count of every decade.

This allowed the GOP to carefully gerrymander the congressional districts and win a majority of the state's 32 House seats, according to the charges.

DeLay's support was duly rewarded by credit unions with maximum campaign contributions to DeLay's personal campaign, his leadership PAC, known as Americans for a Republican Majority, or ARMPAC, and his private charity for children, which CUNA participated in every year with a generous contribution.

DeLay, who is known as The Hammer for his "take-no-prisoners" approach to politics, will be missed by both the Republicans and Democrats.

The Republicans will miss him because he is an adept organizer and a hard worker. The Democrats will miss him because they often use him a bogeyman for what they claim are ethical shortcomings of the Republican majority.

The Hammer's retirement after 11 terms in the House will improve the Republican's chances of retaining his seat in the 22nd congressional district in Texas.

That's why DeLay said he pulled out of the race. But Democrats still hope to use DeLay and his tactics to win the seat, which DeLay won with only 55% of the vote in the 2004 elections.

While DeLay joins former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Majority Leader Dick Armey, former Senate Banking Committee Chairman Al D'Amato, among the strong credit union allies to exit Congress, the credit union lobby is confident they will replace DeLay, as they have the others, with new allies.

The Journal's Ed Roberts can be contacted at eroberts

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