Brooks claimed Blunt could "loosen the baggage" on Republicans after DeLay's indictment, but new leader has also faced ethics questions
Research ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER
Appearing on the September 28 edition of National Public Radio's (NPR) All Things Considered, New York Times columnist David Brooks suggested that new House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-MO) could "loosen the baggage on the party" caused by outgoing leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), who has been indicted over allegations of a conspiracy to launder illegal corporate contributions into Texas House races. But, in fact, Blunt has faced significant ethics charges of his own.
Many of the ethics charges against Blunt concern his dubious efforts to use his position to benefit members of his family. For example, in 2003 Blunt sought a provision to Homeland Security legislation that would have benefited a company that had contributed approximately $150,000 to his campaign committees and that employed his son and future wife as lobbyists. As Knight Ridder reported on September 28, the provision aimed at "crack[ing] down on illegal and Internet-based cigarette sales," which was eventually removed from the bill by other House leaders, would have been a "huge boon to Altria, parent of cigarette maker Philip Morris." At the time, Blunt had a "personal relationship" with Altria lobbyist Abigail Perlman, according to a September 29 Associated Press report; Blunt and Perlman later married.
Blunt's lobbyist son, Andrew, also represents the United Parcel Service, which benefited from an amendment inserted at Roy Blunt's behest into an Iraq spending bill in 2002, according to a September 29 Associated Press report.
Other ethics charges have focused on Blunt's other son, Matt, who was elected Missouri governor in 2004. For example, the Springfield (Missouri) News-Leader reported on August 10, 2003, about a "series of transactions in which a campaign committee controlled by the congressman [Roy Blunt] had contributed $50,000 to a state 7th District Congressional Republican Committee, which then gave $40,000 to Matt Blunt's campaign eight days later." The News-Leader also documented that "[a]nother committee controlled by the congressman, called Rely On Your Beliefs, or ROY B., also gave money to the 7th District Congressional Republican committee," and was "eventually fined $3,000 for improperly giving money to state candidates in Missouri, according to a consent order between the committee's treasurer and the state Ethics Commission."
Further, The Washington Post reported on May 17 that Matt Blunt "awarded one of the few remaining patronage plums in the state" (franchises to collect fees for driver's license renewals, tax payments for new cars and processing motor vehicle titles and registrations that can provide recipients with as much as $1 million over four years) to the wife and brother-in-law of U.S. Attorney Todd P. Graves, whose office has jurisdiction over Roy Blunt's congressional district. The Post noted that, in response to Democratic complaints, the associate deputy attorney general determined that there was "no existing conflict of interest that requires further action at this time."
As with DeLay, there is evidence that Roy Blunt is connected to Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is currently the subject of a criminal investigation led by the Justice Department. As The Washington Post documented on March 13, Blunt joined DeLay and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) in signing a letter threatening to hold Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton accountable if she failed to benefit Abramoff's client, the Louisiana Coushatta tribe, by blocking a bid by another Native American tribe to develop a casino in Louisiana.
Blunt also has ties to one of the consultants currently under indictment with DeLay. The Associated Press reported on September 29 that Federal Election Commission records show that Blunt's political committee, the Rely on Your Beliefs Fund, has paid "roughly $88,000 in fees" to Jim Ellis, head of DeLay's national political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC).
Several outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and Blunt's home-state newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, made no mention of Blunt's ethics questions in September 29 news reports on his ascension to majority leader.
From the September 28 broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered:
BROOKS: I think it's likely it's the end of his [DeLay's] career in the leadership. For a number of months, and maybe even a couple years, most Republicans in the House have been thinking, you know, "This guy skates close to the edge." The idea that he's the Hammer, that he's this ruthless guy, that's not true. He's a normal guy. He treats his members fairly. But they're tired of him skating close to the edge, and they have been talking for months about getting this guy, Roy Blunt, who's very popular, very well-liked, up in that job just to loosen the baggage on the party. And so I think they will be unhappy to give DeLay back his old job because, you know, he's just one bit of trouble after another.