AUSTIN — We live in a great nation. The police blotter of the Mill
Valley Herald in California informs us that the constabulary there had to
be called out on account of a citizen “dressed like a penguin” who was
“standing on a street corner playing a ukulele.” Makes me proud to be
What does not make me proud to be an American is a specific twist in
the Jack Abramoff/Tom DeLay scandal — in fact, this makes me want to
urp despite the fact that I have a strong stomach when it comes to
political corruption. Practice, practice, practice, that’s what Texas
provides when it comes to sleaze and stink. Who can forget such great
explanations as “Well, I’ll just make a little bit of money, I won’t make a
whole lot”? And “There was never a Bible in the room”?
But this is a reach too far, just that little extra that takes normal
putrid corruption and moves it to the ranks of “Excuse me, I have to
throw up.” Both Abramoff and DeLay and many of their web of colleagues
have consistently used nonprofit organizations ostensibly formed for
charitable purposes to launder money, to move peculiar proceeds and to pay
for high-flying perks. Come on, guys, give us a break — if you’re
going to make a mockery of democracy and show your mastery at flipping
money, wiring the system and fixing the odds — please don’t use charitable
organizations designed to help crippled children to do it.
That’s Bad Taste.
According to Associated Press, Tom DeLay “visited cliff-top Caribbean
resorts, golf courses designed by PGA champions and four-star
restaurants, all courtesy of donors who bankrolled his political empire.
“Over the past six years, the former House majority leader and his
associates have visited places of luxury most Americans have never seen,
often getting there aboard corporate jets arranged by lobbyists and
other special interests.
“Public documents reviewed by the Associated Press tell the story: at
least 48 visits to golf clubs, and resorts with lush fairways, 100
flights aboard company planes, 200 stays at hotels, many world class, and
500 meals at restaurants, some averaging nearly $2,000 for a dinner for
“Instead of his personal expense, the meals and trips for DeLay and
his associates were paid with donations collected by the campaign
committees, political action committees and children’s charity the Texas
Republican created during his rise to the top of Congress.”
How cynical does that make you? When I hear Speaker Dennis Hastert is
returning his campaign contributions from Jack Abramoff or “donating it
to charity,” I wonder which little charmer of a Republican campaign
fund masquerading as a charity he’s sending it to.
The DeLay Foundation for Kids was set up 18 years ago and works on
behalf of foster children. But it is also a way for companies to give
unregulated and undisclosed funds: It’s a way for companies to get into
DeLay’s good graces or, as Fred Lewis from Campaign for People says,
“another way for donors to get their hooks into politicians.”
Meanwhile, Abramoff was even more cavalier about “charity.” He created
the Capital Athletic Foundation supposedly to help inner-city children
through organized sports. There is no evidence any of the money ever
went to that purpose, but The Washington Post reports it went to a sniper
school for Israelis on the West Bank, a golf trip to Scotland for Rep.
Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and a Jewish religious academy in Columbia, Md.
Abramoff’s hapless Indian clients were generous contributors: I wonder if he
thought it was funny that Indians would more likely identify with
Palestinians than Israelis.
Believe it or not, there are nonprofit organizations in this country
where the CEO barely makes more than the janitor, where nickels and
pennies are saved so the clients or the cause can get a little more. There
are nonprofits where good and faithful servants have spent decades
devoting their entire lives to helping those less fortunate than themselves
— without ever going to a cliff-top Caribbean resort. There are
nonprofits where extra-bright young people from top schools work for peanuts
because they want to make a better world. While Jack Abramoff padded
his bills and falsified expenses to tribal clients, there are people who
work for minimum wages on Indian reservations to help some of the
poorest people in America get a minimally decent chance at life.
Abramoff and DeLay and their crummy hangers-on haven’t just cheated
and lied. They have dishonored the work of many, many people who are
devoted to helping others without even expecting a decent salary for it.
So, here’s to a few of them here in Austin off the top of my head —
the cheesy, sleazy, brass “charity” of conscienceless climbers can never
touch the real gold of all you do: Tom “Smitty” Smith, Peyton Wimmer,
Sheila Enid Cheaney, Charlie and Pauline Sullivan, Ernie Cortes, the
“twisted sisters” at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Sister Patty
Tenorio, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Casa
Marianella, D’Ann Johnson, the Texas Observer, the Breast Cancer
Resource Center and so many, many more. You are heroes.