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Monday, July 12, 2004

Krugman on DeLay 

What a treat to have a NYT columnist who reads the lefty blogs:
If Enron hadn't collapsed, we might still have only circumstantial evidence that energy companies artificially drove up prices during California's electricity crisis. Because of that collapse, we have direct evidence in the form of the now-infamous Enron tapes — although the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Justice Department tried to prevent their release.

Now, e-mail and other Enron documents are revealing why Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, is one of the most powerful men in America.

A little background: at the Republican convention, most featured speakers will be social moderates like Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger. A moderate facade is necessary to win elections in a generally tolerant nation. But real power in the party rests with hard-line social conservatives like Mr. DeLay, who, in the debate over gun control after the Columbine shootings, insisted that juvenile violence is the result of day care, birth control and the teaching of evolution.

Here's the puzzle: if Mr. DeLay's brand of conservatism is so unpopular that it must be kept in the closet during the convention, how can people like him really run the party?

In Mr. DeLay's case, a large part of the answer is his control over corporate cash. As far back as 1996, one analyst described Mr. DeLay as the "chief enforcer of company contributions to Republicans." Some of that cash has flowed through Americans for a Republican Majority, called Armpac, a political action committee Mr. DeLay founded in 1994. By dispensing that money to other legislators, he gains their allegiance; this, in turn, allows him to deliver favors to his corporate contributors. Four of the five Republicans on the House ethics committee, where a complaint has been filed against Mr. DeLay, are past recipients of Armpac money.

The complaint, filed by Representative Chris Bell of Texas, contends, among other things, that Mr. DeLay laundered illegal corporate contributions for use in Texas elections. . . . .

But you shouldn't conclude that the system is working. Mr. DeLay's current predicament is an accident. The party machine that he has done so much to create has eliminated most of the checks and balances in our government. Again and again, Republicans in Congress have closed ranks to block or emasculate politically inconvenient investigations. If Enron hadn't collapsed, and if Texas didn't still have a campaign finance law that is a relic of its populist past, Mr. DeLay would be in no danger at all.

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