DeLay's Influence Transcends His Title.
For the indefinite future, Washington will remain Tom DeLay's capital. Dislodged by a criminal indictment last week from his post as House majority leader, DeLay in his decade of steering the Republican caucus dramatically -- and in many cases inalterably -- changed how power is amassed and used on Capitol Hill and well beyond.
Proteges of the wounded Texan still hold virtually every position of influence in the House, including the office of speaker. DeLay's former staff members are securely in the lobbying offices for many of the largest corporations and business advocacy groups.
But even more than people, DeLay's lasting influence is an ethos. He stood for a view of Washington as a battlefield on which two sides struggle relentlessly, moderates and voices of compromise are pushed to the margins, and the winners presume they have earned the right to punish dissenters and reward their own side with financial and policy favors.
His take-no-prisoners style of fundraising -- in which the classic unstated bargain of access for contributions is made explicitly and without apology -- has been adopted by both parties in Congress, according to lawmakers, lobbyists and congressional scholars. Democrats, likewise, increasingly are trying to emulate DeLay-perfected methods for enforcing caucus discipline -- rewarding lawmakers who follow the dictums of party leaders and seeking retribution against those who do not.
Most of all, DeLay stood for a blurring of the line between lawmakers and lobbyists so that lobbyists are now considered partners of politicians and not merely pleaders -- especially if they once worked for Republicans on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers-turned-corporate lobbyists such as Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.) and aides such as Ed Buckham, DeLay's former chief of staff, remain among the most influential figures on Capitol Hill -- often more involved than lawmakers in writing policy and plotting political strategy.
In the House, DeLay enhanced the leadership's role by ending the practice of automatically promoting the most senior lawmakers to committee chairmanships and, instead, choosing loyalists to fill the powerful slots. Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) was booted from the chairmanship of the Veterans Affairs Committee at the beginning of the current Congress because he repeatedly bucked DeLay and other GOP leaders on key votes. DeLay also arranged to have the chairmen elected by the committees themselves, whose members he also selected and was thus better able to control.
DeLay's fundraising focus has also permeated Washington. Over the years, DeLay has raised tens of millions of dollars for Republicans through nearly a dozen fundraising entities.
DeLay established as common practice the requirement that House GOP incumbents with safe seats collect at least some money for the party as a whole. Chairmen of committees were particularly on the line to raise large sums, Republican aides said. Unless they paid up, their chairmanships were in danger.