Image: Rep. Tom DeLay
Larry Downing  /  Reuters file
Rep. Tom DeLay, seen here at the House Republican Conference in February, is up against a serious primary challenge after being forced out of his job as House majority leader.
updated 3/7/2006 12:23:13 PM ET 2006-03-07T17:23:13

Rep. Tom DeLay, whose association with lobbyist Jack Abramoff has left him politically vulnerable, is spending Texas’ primary night Tuesday at a fund-raiser hosted by two Washington lobbyists.

DeLay faces three opponents in the Republican primary. For the first time in the 22 years he’s held office, he is up against a serious challenge after being forced out of his job as House majority leader amid corruption and campaign finance scandals.

The fund-raiser is being held by lobbyists Bill Paxon and Susan Molinari, both former members of Congress from New York. The event will raise money for DeLay’s re-election campaign.

DeLay spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty said DeLay would be in Washington for votes and has other events on his schedule including the fund-raiser. She said he was unavailable for an interview.

Paxon said if DeLay were to go to Texas for the primary, he would be criticized for leaving Washington while Congress was in session. The House is scheduled Tuesday evening to give final approval to the Patriot Act.

Paxon, now a lobbyist with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, and his wife, Molinari, are friends of DeLay. Molinari is chairwoman and CEO of The Washington Group, a Ketchum company.

Challenger condemns DeLay plans
DeLay’s toughest primary challenger, attorney Tom Campbell, criticized the congressman’s election-night plans.

“I think it’s amazingly ironic and callous he would be spending election night with a group of lobbyists,” Campbell said. “I don’t think he understands how unhappy constituents are with what appears to be a trade of principle for power.”

DeLay has been the muscle behind the K Street Project in Washington, in which lobbying firms were pressured to hire Republicans and contribute to Republicans. He was rebuked by the House ethics committee in 1998 for lashing out at one industry group for hiring a Democrat.

The ethics panel also rebuked DeLay in 2004 for mingling at a golf outing with executives from a Kansas utility that was trying at the time to get a favorable provision added to an energy bill. The committee said then that DeLay created an appearance of favoritism by meeting with the executives just days after they contributed to a Texas fund-raising committee he started.

DeLay is awaiting trial in Texas on money-laundering charges stemming from an investigation of corporate contributions to that committee.

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Relationship with Abramoff questioned
Questions also have been raised about DeLay’s relationship with Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January in a federal political corruption investigation. DeLay traveled with Abramoff and other lobbyists to Scotland in 2000. He also used the lobbyist’s skybox for a donor appreciation event and has accepted contributions from Abramoff and his clients.

DeLay has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and has labeled the Texas investigation a political witch hunt.

DeLay has been behind in the fund-raising race against the Democrat he would oppose if he wins Tuesday.

In reports filed with the Federal Election Commission late last month, DeLay had raised about $153,000 between Jan. 1 and Feb. 15, compared with $248,000 for Nick Lampson, a former congressman. DeLay had about $1.3 million cash on hand as of Feb. 15, while Lampson had $1.4 million. Since then, he has raised $172,000 more for his campaign.

Republican Campbell has reported raising about $79,000 between Jan. 1 and Feb. 15, with $17,200 cash on hand. Since then he has reported raising $8,900.

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