Who Owns Mark Kennedy's Soul?
by Eric Magnuson
Mark Kennedy wants to be your U.S. Senator. Minnesotans already voted him into the U.S. House over three consecutive elections; first in the second district, then the sixth. Clear civic knowledge indicates that a vote for Kennedy also means voting for former House majority leader, Tom DeLay. This can't bode well for Kennedy. Magazines have compared DeLay to a modern-day Boss Tweed, reaping votes any way he can, accused of throwing ethics off Capitol Hill. DeLay has changed the way legislation is passed in this country. An indictment awoke a nation to this. But it doesn't stop there. He is connected to nearly every elected Republican today. Although Kennedy isn't as entangled with DeLay as other Republicans, an analysis of Kennedy's career suggests he's become a pawn in the Hammer's game. Through campaign contributions and lucrative fund-raisers, to bankable committee placements, DeLay knows he can nearly always receive Kennedy's final vote, whether it's for protecting polluters in Minnesota or lowering the U.S. House's ethical standards.
is a kingmaker in the Republican House, known for rewarding those who toe the
party line—and breaking those who go astray. When Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT)
diverted from DeLay’s demands and co-authored legislation that reformed
campaign-finance laws, he was denied a committee chairmanship normally bestowed
upon those with his seniority. As majority leader, DeLay designated committee
placements in the Republican House. He also steered power by showering Republicans
with money from his national political action committee, Americans for a Republican
Majority (ARMPAC), and a fund-raising event he created in 1999 called the Retaining
Our Majority Program (ROMP). Kennedy benefitted from both in past campaigns.
However, it was money circulated through DeLay’s state PAC, Texans for
a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), that caught DeLay in two indictments. He is
accused of conspiring with James W. Ellis, director of ARMPAC, and another aide
in a money laundering scheme.
Texas law says corporate money cannot be spent on state campaigns. The indictments
say DeLay’s TRMPAC sent money to the Republican National Committee in
exchange for $190,000 in contributions without corporate ties, making it possible
for TRMPAC to give this money to Texas candidates. The indictment accuses Ellis
of arranging the transaction. He was indicted last fall for his alleged involvement.
Kennedy’s detractors have called on him to return money he received from
ARMPAC because it is connected to DeLay and Ellis. (Also important to note is
that TRMPAC was created with $50,000 in seed money from the national committee.)
Kennedy received $29,500 between 2000 and 2004, putting him in the top 10 for
DeLay’s beneficiaries. But $29,500 is a small portion of DeLay’s
business relationship with the Sixth District’s representative. Analyzing
the money and power granted to Kennedy throughout his career by DeLay is a good
introduction into how American politics function today.
Kennedy’s financial ties with DeLay date back to 2000, when the Minnesotan
initially ran for the U.S. House. It was then that DeLay’s ARMPAC first
donated to Kennedy the yearly maximum of $10,000. It wasn’t much. In fact,
it didn’t help Kennedy win an impressive victory. He won by a mere 155
votes. But this narrow margin sparked a relationship between the congressmen.
It led to Kennedy’s participation in ROMP.
ROMP is DeLay’s brainchild. It’s a fund-raiser, organized with Ellis’
help, for Republican candidates who face stiff odds in an upcoming election.
Kennedy fit into this category after his slim win in 2000. Washington, D.C.,
newspaper The Hill reported that DeLay and Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) handpicked
Kennedy to participate in the fund-raiser with five other Republicans in 2001.
Their goal was to secure up to $100,000 in each candidate’s campaigns
by June 30. DeLay successfully did this by encouraging Republicans with surplus
funds to donate to weaker candidates. Many of these candidates with money to
spare also received funding from ARMPAC, such as Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ),
who received $15,765 from the committee. It’s a similar practice seen
in the TRMPAC indictment, except legal. A political action committee can’t
contribute more than $10,000 to a candidate per election. ARMPAC is able to
donate the maximum to whomever. It’s up to the recipient, such as Hayworth,
to decide whether they’ll make a contribution to another candidate from
their own PAC. DeLay, however, is very good at making people follow his party
event didn’t come free to Kennedy. He paid DeLay $500 for sponsoring the
event on May 9, 2001. The money, however, didn’t leave his hands for long.
Roll Call later reported that each candidate received about $132,000 from the
ROMP event. And a similar event in early June raised at least another $10,000
for each participant. This means DeLay was responsible for at least $142,000
in Kennedy’s campaign fund by June 2001. By the end of the year, ARMPAC
piled on nearly $10,000 more to the summit of cash.
KENNEDY boasts an interesting voting record in 2001. Throughout his
career, he rarely diverges from DeLay’s path. Prior to the ROMP event,
Kennedy never voted against DeLay on a piece of legislation. A common occurrence
in Kennedy’s voting behavior blossomed in his first year on Capitol Hill.
The two congressmen do, on rare occasions, vote against each other. But Kennedy
saves most of these votes for times that can be categorized as politically safe.
For instance, Kennedy voted against DeLay on a number of amendments to bills
in 2001. Before passing a large piece of legislation, No Child Left Behind,
for example, Congress usually votes beforehand on whether or not specific amendments
will be included in the final legislation. No Child Left Behind was certain
to pass in the House. It had bi-partisan support. If Kennedy voted against DeLay
on a couple amendments to the act, he didn’t face political repercussions.
No Child Left Behind was going to pass no matter what. These are times that
Kennedy disagrees with DeLay. Otherwise, he votes the party line. Except on
In 2001, Kennedy was on the House Agriculture Committee. A major farm bill called
the Farm Security Act was up for a vote in early October. The bill’s proponents
said it would help rural farmers prosper. It was likely to pass but not in DeLay’s
favor. He and Kennedy disagreed on three different amendments before the final
vote. And Kennedy did something interesting: He voted against DeLay and helped
pass the bill.
It should be noted that a politician who sits on a committee often receives
large contributions from whatever industry the committee represents. Agribusiness
wanted to see the Farm Security Act pass. During the election cycle including
2001, Kennedy received $163,383 from PACs representing agribusiness. He has
not seen agriculture dollars that high in a subsequent election period. At the
time, they exceeded DeLay’s helping hand by about $10,000.
Kennedy voted with agribusiness in 2001.
2002, however, was a major year in Kennedy’s voting career. He voted alongside
DeLay more than in any other session in Congress. We’ve already mentioned
that a majority of Kennedy’s votes align with the Representative from
Texas. What does this mean, exactly? Republicans are expected to vote on their
side of the aisle, just as Democrats are expected to do on their side. That
is, unless it conflicts with their state’s best interest. Earlier this
year, the League of Conservation Voters named Kennedy part of “Tom’s
Tainted Team” for voting with DeLay rather than the interest of Minnesota.
Earlier this year, the House voted on an energy bill that, like its two predecessors,
protected polluters from an obligation to clean groundwater they contaminated
with MTBE. MTBE is a chemical often found in drinking water. Data on the chemical
is limited and can’t determine whether it’s an actual health risk.
At high doses, however, it is deemed a potential human carcinogen. Rather than
make polluters clean up contaminated waters, the bill asked taxpayers to pay
The legislation allowing protection to polluters was largely spearheaded by
DeLay. Minnesota has 27 water systems contaminated with MTBE. Kennedy’s
district has four contaminated water systems. The congressman took $7,000 from
a major MTBE manufacturer in 2004. On June 10, 2004, he received $10,000 from
DeLay’s national political action committee. Five days later, he voted
to protect polluters from cleaning up their mess.
two weeks into 2003, after a year of rarely wavering from DeLay’s ideology,
the majority leader took Kennedy off the Agriculture Committee and placed him
on the Financial Services Committee. This panel has jurisdiction over commercial
banks, insurance companies and other related industries. Being on the Financial
Services Committee is a lucrative position. It isn’t a secret that the
industry it presides over donates large amounts of money to committee members.
The Center for Responsive Politics says the Financial Services Committee “has
long been considered a ‘big money’ panel, with jurisdiction over
commercial banks and savings and loans that traditionally have been very generous
with their campaign contributions to committee members.” This proves true
in Kennedy’s position.
In the first election cycle on the finance committee, Kennedy received $301,677
from the industry it regulated. This is nearly double what he received from
agribusiness when serving on the Agriculture Committee. The financial industry
greatly increased contributions when Kennedy switched committees. When he wasn’t
on the finance committee, the industry contributed $152,378, nearly half as
much as when he sat on financial services.
The trend continues today. During the current Senate race, Kennedy has already
received more than double from the financial industry than he has from agriculture.
It is true that Kennedy has an extensive business background. Before running
for Congress, he worked as a CFO for ShopKo and Department 56. He is likely
to understand the industry he presides over. But experience has taken a backseat
in DeLay’s House. Rep. Shays could attest to that when he was denied a
chairmanship after serving on the Government Reform Committee nearly twice as
long as the congressman who received the position. DeLay’s practice of
rewarding those who cling to his side also merged into the Republican Senate,
as reported by the Washington Post. For example, Sen. John McCain has firsthand
experience watching glaciers melt and often publicly expresses a need for America
to deal with global warming. However, he no longer sits as chairman on the science
committee and the chairman of the environmental committee believes global warming
is a hoax.
WHEN 2004 came, accusations began to heat up that DeLay played outside
ethical and legal boundaries. Aside from the allegations named in his indictment,
he has been accused of the following unethical practices: In an action that
violated House rules, he offered to endorse a Senator’s son in a congressional
race in exchange for the Senator’s vote on the Medicare bill. In another
instance, he created a charity for abused children as a front to collect funds
from interest groups. Rather than neglected children, some of the proceeds went
to a rock concert, dinners and Broadway tickets during the New York City Republican
convention. Another example occurred when an energy company was led to believe
that a $56,500 contribution to DeLay’s PAC would give them a voice in
what language is included in an energy bill. The list could go on.
Even with his ethics in question, he still conducted business like he did in
previous years. In June, as noted before, ARMPAC donated $10,000 to Kennedy.
Four months later, a series of votes intended to unseat an indicted majority
leader began to pour across the House floor.
In October, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi introduced a House measure to hire
an outside counsel to probe DeLay’s conduct. Kennedy voted against it.
Nov. 17, House Republicans voted on whether to change an ethics rule. Prior
House rules said a majority leader must automatically step down from their position
if they are indicted. It was a secret vote conducted behind closed doors. Unlike
most votes, politicians didn’t need to tell the public how they voted.
Numerous weblogs, both local and national, called their representatives by phone
to ask how they voted on the measure. According to the blogs Talking Points
Memo and Minnesota Republican Watch, they were initially told by Kennedy staffers
that a vote did not occur when they called the representative’s office.
This is strange because every other Minnesota Republican said a vote took place.
It soon became widely known to the public that a vote did, in fact, occur. But
Kennedy’s office refused to say how he voted. His staffers have said that
divulging a private vote by the congressman is not office policy. Two weeks
after the closed-door vote, six protesters stood outside Kennedy’s St.
Cloud office, demanding to get an answer on how he voted. The six protesters,
organized by DFL volunteer Ric Studer, eventually entered his office. The protesters
say that Kennedy’s staff admitted that he voted to loosen the rule. But
the St. Cloud Times reported that the congressman’s spokeswoman declined
to comment immediately after the event. Another newspaper quoted a Kennedy spokesperson
who disputed the protesters’ account of the incident. To this day, Kennedy
has not issued a statement on how he voted on this measure.
In January of this year, a third vote asked legislators whether they hoped to
look into DeLay’s campaign finance deals. Congresspeople were asked whether
an investigation of DeLay’s ethical issues needed a majority on the Ethics
Committee to be in favor of it moving forward, rather than allow an investigation
to automatically commence after 45 days. Kennedy voted to require a majority
vote by the Ethics Committee. The Pioneer Press wrote the following April that
the committee didn’t move on an investigation for several months. At the
time, two congressmen who contributed to DeLay’s legal defense fund sat
on the Ethics Committee. Their conflict of interest may have hindered a majority.
They didn’t step down from DeLay’s investigation until May, after
Democrats called for their removal.
Thus far, Kennedy has not publically commented on whether he approves of DeLay.
His office released this statement after the majority leader’s indictment:
“We have a system of laws bigger than any one man or any one office. Tom
DeLay will have to deal with the case down in Texas, the same as any American
This all leads into today. Since Mark Kennedy first stepped onto the House floor,
he’s taken $29,500 from ARMPAC. He received at least $142,000 from fund-raisers
executed by DeLay. He participated in a fund-raiser organized and created by
men indicted for money laundering and conspiracy to launder money. DeLay appointed
Kennedy to a committee known for receiving large campaign contributions. And
Kennedy voted not once, but three times to keep a man with questionable ethics
in high power. Remember, this is the same man who attacked his 2004 opponent,
Patty Wetterling, for taking money from MoveOn.org.
might save political face if he returns the $29,500 to ARMPAC. At least two
Republicans recently returned funds they received from the political action
committee. Similar to last year, the DFL is calling on Minnesota Republicans
to return their ARMPAC funds. Minnesota Rep. John Kline, who received even more
contributions from ARMPAC than Kennedy, has said he will return the contributions
if they are deemed illegal. Kennedy, however? As of September 30, his office
said he didn’t have any plans to return the money.
For the moment, it’s easy to argue that Kennedy has little reason to return
ARMPAC funds because the PAC wasn’t named in the indictment. A Federal
Election Commission audit released last month, however, indicates that ARMPAC
also appears to be in trouble. The audit says DeLay’s national PAC improperly
spent nearly $203,500 in the 2002 elections. This is the same election cycle
that ARMPAC donated nearly $10,000 to Kennedy. He also participated in ROMP
during this cycle. The PAC broke election laws in 2001-2 by using the wrong
account to pay its expenses. This allowed the PAC to spend more money on Congressional
races than the legal limit in 2002. The PAC was supposed to pay for 93 percent
of its administrative costs with “hard” money, cash designated for
federal campaigns. But they split expenses evenly between hard and soft money.
The split gave them more money to splash onto federal races.
Craig Holman, campaign finance lobbyist for the group Public Citizen, was quoted
in the Austin American-Statesman last month, saying the FEC audit revealed a
spending pattern similar to the political action committee involved in the indictment,
TRMPAC. “It shows the same pattern of mixing up soft and hard money and
using it for illegal campaign purposes,” Holman told the newspaper, “It’s
indicative that Tom DeLay has been playing fast and loose with soft money all
A lawyer for ARMPAC, Donald F. McGhan II, played down what the audit found and
told reporters that it revealed honest mistakes while keeping their books. “In
the scale of audits, this is a pretty clean audit,” he said.
watchdog groups anticipate that ARMPAC will pay a large fine because of the
amount of money involved. If the political action committee made these errors
by accident, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics foresees the FEC imposing
a $500,000 fine. If ARMPAC knowingly broke election law, the fine might increase
to $1.5 million.
THE 2006 Senate election is more than 12 months away. But political
writers already question whether Kennedy’s ties to DeLay will ruin his
campaign. Although premature, a Zogby poll recently asked voters who they will
vote for in Minnesota’s 2006 Senate race. Kennedy fell behind his two
likeliest Democratic challengers. He trailed by 6.1 points behind Amy Klobuchar
and 3.2 points behind Wetterling.
Kennedy recently sent a letter expressing fear that Democrats will participate
in “dirty tricks” against him during the election by digging into
his personal records. However, little needs to be surfaced. His public record
already suggests how politics work—or don’t work—in America
today. It is difficult to find coincidence in the cause and effect of money
and power in DeLay’s political machine. ||