Mark Kennedy: Will he be nailed by love for the Hammer?

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To a lot of observers, Tom DeLay has long been regarded as one of the more unseemly characters in the U.S. Congress. This distinction is roughly equivalent to being deemed the most ill-behaved denizen of a crackhouse. In other words, it is for good reason DeLay is known as "the Hammer." With an an awe-inspiring gift for wielding his political heft, he transformed himself from a Houston bug exterminator into the great Beltway Machiavelli of his day. As much as anyone this side of Karl Rove, he is responsible for constructing what--until very recently--looked like a permanent Republican majority in D.C.


But overreaching has also become the defining feature of the modern Grand Old Party. This was most recently illustrated by DeLay's indictment for gross violation of Texas campaign law. So it's no surprise that some of the Hammer's fellow Republicans--fearful of a general backlash in the 2006 elections--might decide to put a little distance between themselves and the now reeling ex-majority leader.

Indeed, as USA Today reported yesterday, two members of the Republican congressional delegation--Jeb Bradley of New Hampshire and Heather Wilson of New Mexico--have already announced that they plan to return monies they received from DeLay's political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority.

But what about DeLay's closer allies...people like, say, Mark Kennedy, the Sixth District Minnesota Congressman who yearns to replace retiring Senator Mark Dayton. Kennedy is in a tough spot. By some estimates, he represents the GOP's best chance to pick up a Democratic seat in the Senate. Why would he want to risk alienating the still-powerful DeLay with some peevish, self-righteous gesture, especially if DeLay manages to wiggle his way out of the current jam?

On the other hand, depending on the outcome of the criminal case in Texas, any affiliation with DeLay could prove damaging. This is especially true for Kennedy, who is as closely linked to DeLay as any member of the Minnesota congressional delegation. Indeed, in a recent report from the League of Conservation Voters Kennedy is listed as one of the ten members of Congress deserving special designation as a member of "Tom's Tainted Team."

The criteria? Voting at least twice in favor of DeLay's pet initiative that would indemnify the manufacturers of gasoline additive called MTBE, a likely human carcinogen that has polluted groundwater supplies across the country; accepting at least $20,000 money from DeLay's PAC, which is funded in part by MTBE interests; accepting money from oil and gas interests; and, perhaps most significantly, voting to change House ethics rules to shield DeLay from a congressional investigation.

According to the Conservation Voters report, Kennedy accepted some $29,500 from DeLay's PAC though August '05 and about $13,000 in MTBE-related donations through August '04. And, as noted above, he has voted to protect MTBE manufacturers--a matter over which the wrangling still persists.

Such actions might be easier to swallow if MTBE were not an issue in his home state. But it is. In Kennedy's district alone, at least four water systems have tested positive for the presence of MTBE. In the rest of the state, which Kennedy hopes to represent, a total of 27 water systems have tested positive for MTBE.

So how does Kennedy feel about DeLay's largess these days? Apparently, just fine. In this morning's Star Tribune, a Kennedy spokeswoman said the congressman has "no plans" to return any of the DeLay PAC money. Meanwhile, according to the Strib, two other members of the Minnesota delegation also received donations from the PAC. Gil Gutknecht, who pulled in a paltry $5,798 in the mid-90s, declined to comment on what action he might take. John Kline's office, meanwhile, told the Strib that the congressman would only return contributions that are deemed illegal--and it's DeLay's Texas PAC, not the national one, that is in the investigator's crosshairs.


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