Ed Buckham's name was one you didn't hear much outside the secluded corridor where he worked on the first floor of the Capitol. But in that suite, which houses the majority whip's offices, Buckham was far more than an ordinary congressional aide in the three heady years following the Republican takeover of the House in 1994. Thanks to an unusually close and trusting relationship with his boss, Tom DeLay's chief of staff quietly became one of the most powerful people in Washington. "He was the guy DeLay turned to when he made a final decision," recalls a former aide to a member of the House Republican leadership, "and even after he made the final decision, the guy who could talk him out of it." What even fewer people outside that office knew was that the two shared a bond that transcended power and politics: Buckham, a licensed nondenominational minister, was also DeLay's pastor. For a while, in DeLay's early days as whip, they organized daily voluntary prayer sessions for the staff--until it began making some aides uncomfortable. After that, according to two sources who worked in the office at the time, the two of them frequently prayed together privately, joining hands in DeLay's office.
Buckham shared not only DeLay's religious faith but also his audacious vision for harnessing the financial and political clout of business and conservative interests to carry out the G.O.P. agenda and increase its majority in Congress. DeLay offered lobbyists the best seats they had ever had at the table, a say in legislative and political strategy, on the understanding that they in return would pour millions into DeLay's favored causes and candidates. In addition, he threatened to shut out lobbying shops that employed Democrats. In Washington that seamless coordination between his office and the lobbying corridor of K Street has become known as DeLay Inc. It developed the muscle to push or block pretty much everything DeLay asked for, from protecting tax breaks for low-wage garment manufacturers on the Northern Mariana Islands (where DeLay spent New Year's Day 1998 with his wife and Buckham) to creating a Medicare prescription-drug plan that critics say is a better deal for pharmaceutical companies than it is for seniors.
Now the machinery that DeLay and his pastor built threatens to derail DeLay. He was slapped three times last year by the House ethics committee for violations of House rules, and finds himself potentially facing more serious trouble on multiple fronts. Each day seems to bring another embarrassing headline and more lawmakers' being caught up in allegations of impropriety that surround the lobbyists--many, like Buckham, former DeLay staff members--who have traded on their access to him. The Washington Post reported last week that DeLay (as well as six other Representatives from both parties and several congressional aides) had over the past four years accepted trips to South Korea, paid for by a registered foreign agent--a violation of House rules.