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DeLay Uses Charity Fund-Raising As Income Outside Funding Limits

By Michael Slackman

The New York Times -- It is an unusual charity brochure: a 13-page document, complete with pictures of fireworks and a golf course, that invites potential wealthy donors to give as much as $500,000 to spend time with Rep. Tom DeLay during the 2004 Republican convention in New York City -- and to have part of the money go to help abused and neglected children.

DeLay, R-Texas, the House majority leader, has both done work for troubled children and drawn criticism for his aggressive political fund raising across his career in Congress. He said through his staff that the entire effort is fundamentally aimed at helping children.

But aides to DeLay acknowledged that a portion of the money will go to pay for late-night convention parties, a luxury suite during President Bush’s speech at Madison Square Garden and yacht cruises.

So campaign finance watchdogs say DeLay’s effort can be seen as a creative maneuver around the recently enacted law meant to limit the ability of federal officials to raise large donations known as soft money.

“They are using the idea of helping children as a blatant cover for financing activities in connection with a convention with huge unlimited, undisclosed, unregulated contributions,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a Washington-based group that helped push through the recent overhaul of the campaign finance laws.

And other lawmakers may well follow DeLay’s lead. Already Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Senate majority leader, is planning to hold a concert and a reception in conjunction with the convention to raise funds for AIDS charities.

DeLay’s charity, Celebrations for Children, Inc., was set up in September and has no track record of work. DeLay is not a formal official of the charity, but its managers are DeLay’s daughter, Dani DeLay Ferro; Craig Richardson, a longtime advisor; and Rob Jennings, a Republican fund-raiser.