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50 fund-raisers under scrutiny

Events were staged as Congress let Freddie Mac bill die

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WASHINGTON — The chief lobbyist for Freddie Mac, the home financing giant now in the midst of an accounting scandal, staged at least 50 fund-raisers for congressional Republicans in the past 2 1/2 years as the company easily fought off attempts in Congress to bring it under increased federal regulation.

More than half of the fund-raisers benefited lawmakers serving on House and Senate committees that oversee the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. While such fund-raisers are not illegal, they raise questions about the influence of campaign money on the legislative process.

House Financial Services Committee chairman Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, whose panel did not act on proposed legislation that would have increased federal oversight of the housing lender, was the most frequently featured guest at 19 of the fund-raisers for Oxley's colleagues, records show. Legislation to regulate Freddie Mac died in subcommittee.

Pressure for greater regulation has come from the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Richard Baker, R-La., with occasional help from other conservative Republicans. Baker has been fighting an uphill battle. Eighteen of the 50 fund-raisers were for subcommittee members.

The events hosted by lobbyist Mitch Delk were posted on a Web site run by a GOP fund-raising firm. The site offered an unusually detailed glimpse of the fund-raising activities by several lobbyists and organizations seeking to influence pending legislation. But after Freddie Mac became enmeshed in the accounting controversy in June, the listing was removed from the Web site.

Among the 50 events that had been listed were ones helping the political action committees of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, GOP Whip Roy Blunt and Oxley, according to Web site copies.

Public Citizen, an advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader, had saved copies of the earlier Web listings containing Delk's name and provided them to The Associated Press.

The Justice Department announced Friday that a corporate fraud task force of law enforcement officials from various agencies will now play a role in scrutinizing Freddie Mac. An office in the Department of Housing and Urban Development whose job is to oversee Freddie Mac and its larger competitor, Fannie Mae, will be added to the President's Corporate Fraud Task Force.

With $39.7 billion in annual revenue, McLean, Va.-based Freddie Mac is one of the biggest U.S. corporations, yet the government-sponsored entity is subject to few of the restrictions that much of the private banking sector faces.

Following decades of limited oversight by the government and few requirements that it report its finances to the public, Freddie Mac disclosed in June that it may have to restate its earnings by as much as $4.5 billion for the past three years. The Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department are investigating.Delk, according to reports filed with the House and Senate, was actively lobbying Congress on proposed legislation affecting Freddie Mac, but an Oxley spokeswoman said there was no connection between the fund-raisers and legislation.

"Mr. Oxley is a very dedicated legislator and takes great care to distinguish between his legislative responsibilities and his political responsibilities," the spokeswoman for Oxley's political action committee said in a statement.

Oxley refused to answer questions about the matter on Friday

Asked about such a large number of fund-raisers for lawmakers in a position to help Freddie Mac, Delk's Washington lawyer, Jan Baran, said, "The law doesn't regulate appearances. You're asking me a political question."

Freddie Mac said it had nothing to do with the fund-raisers but acknowledged Delk's off-hours activities are helpful. "I'm not trying to say that Mitch's connections do not benefit the company; certainly that's not the case," Freddie Mac spokeswoman Sharon McHale said.

Delk and his wife paid and hosted all but one of the fund-raisers, held at a well-known Washington restaurant. The couple typically paid between $500 and $1,000 to throw each event.

"Mr. Delk on his own time and at his own expense contributes to candidates of his choice. Freddie Mac never paid or reimbursed any contribution or restaurant bill on Mr. Delk's behalf," Baran said.

"All of these activities have been conducted in full compliance with applicable laws. All donations were reported to the candidates who in turn had the obligation to disclose the contributions on reports to the Federal Election Commission," Baran added.

According to the list removed from the Internet, Delk hosted two events that raised money for Oxley's PAC. That was in addition to the 19 events in which Delk used Oxley, the committee chairman, as the featured guest.

Thirty of Delk's 50 events were for members of House and Senate committees overseeing Freddie Mac.

Shortly after taking over the committee chairmanship in 2001, Oxley said that "a number of concerns have been raised" about Freddie Mac and its larger competitor, Fannie Mae, including "the adequacy of their supervision, the nature of their mission and the risk they could pose to the financial system in the event of a downturn."

Little more than a month later, Oxley began appearing as a special guest at Delk's fund-raisers. Subsequently, Oxley said little about Freddie Mac, until a management shake-up at the corporation last month.

Delk is the corporation's senior vice president for government relations. His attorney said the lobbyist does not know how much money flowed to congressional candidates from Delk's 50 fund-raisers. He described the role of House and Senate leaders in the events as that of "invited guests."

"Of course some of the events were for their own campaigns or committees and naturally they participated," Baran said. But he said Delk had no quota from GOP leaders on how much money he should raise.

Following the June shake-up at Freddie Mac, Delk contacted Julie Wadler of the fund-raising firm Epiphany Productions and told her to cancel upcoming events. Wadler said her company inadvertently deleted all references to Delk's past fund-raisers from the firm's Internet site at the same time it deleted Delk's schedule.

Contributing: Marcy Gordon.