By Sam Dealey
Published December 17th 2003 in The Hill
The chief of staff to Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas)
spent an unusual amount of time in Texas as Frost led the fight to block
Republican congressional redistricting efforts.
Frost's staff members do not dispute House travel records that show the aide, Matthew Angle, spent virtually the entire summer away from the nation's capital.
But they claim that Angle moved to a political payroll when dealing with the GOPís contentious re-mapping offensive. They further say that the rest of the time he was engaged in normal official duties.
House rules and federal law bar the use of official resources, including professional staff, for overt political work.
Nevertheless, the rules drawn by the House Standards
of Official Conduct Committee leave a fair amount of wiggle room for
political activity by aides.
Democratic members of Texasís congressional delegation, a group that could shrink appreciably if the redistricting plan stays intact, have charged that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has masterminded an unwarranted political power grab.
DeLay staffers acknowledge that they are a driving force behind the new map. But they insist that their own political activities have been undertaken by Jim Ellis, director of DeLay's leadership PAC, and without the use of official congressional resources.
"They've obviously trained their sights on DeLay and Ellis and on their roles," said DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella. "But clearly the same actors who have been complaining about Republicansí use of government resources are making hypocrites of themselves. Our point person is not employed by the taxpayers."
Angle did not return calls seeking comment.
Frost spokesman Tom Eisenhauer said Angle's activities were "in complete compliance with the rules of the House."
"As chief of staff, he oversees the district staff and the Washington staff, and he works out of whichever office he needs to," he added.
Angle, a 20-year Frost veteran, also served as executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee when Frost chaired the group.
Beginning in April, when the state legislature in Austin went to work on the redistricting issue, to late July, when Democratic state senators fled to New Mexico to block a vote, Angle made a steady stream of visits to the Lone Star State.
In April, House disbursement records show, Angle spent 26 out of 30 days in Texas; in May, 22 of 31; in June, 14 of 30 days; and in July, between 17 and 27 out of 31 days traveling.
Campaign finance records disclose that Frostís committee reimbursed Angle & Associates, the chief of staffís political consulting firm, some $4,000 in travel expenses for the second and third quarters. The committee also paid the firm $45,000 in consulting fees during that period.
The Lone Star Fund, a leadership PAC linked to Frost, also paid Angle directly for travel costs of at least $2,000 through the first six months of the year.
Through the first three quarters of this year, Angle was paid $45,000 in taxpayer funds in his role as a ìpart-timeî chief of staff. The average annual salary of a full-time House chief of staff is $110,000.
Frostís staff has played a leading role in orchestrating the fierce Democratic response to the GOPís redistricting drive.
In May, as the state House was poised to pass a GOP-friendly map, Frost staffers helped coordinate the flight of 50 state House Democrats to Ardmore, Okla. Their absence deprived the chamber of a quorum and prompted Gov. Rick Perry (R) to issue warrants for their arrest.
Lisa Turner, a field representative for Frost, accompanied the departed Democrats, and Angle greeted them upon their return to Austin five days later at 4 a.m.
Turner told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that her stay in Ardmore was unconnected to her congressional job. "I take my vacation time to do whatever I want to do," she said.
A spokesman for Frost told the paper at the time that Angle was in Austin "working on his other interests" and was not acting behalf of the congressman. The spokesman also said that Frost wasn't involved in the Ardmore caper.
But DeLay's spokesman scoffed at that claim. "It would be laughable if it weren't so outrageous that they would care to characterize their extensive abuse of government resources as a collection of isolated incidents," said Grella.
House records also show that on May 27 the Lone Star Fund disbursed $1,092 to Dan Dipert Coaches in Arlington, Texas. The company said the payment was for a May 12 coach trip, departing Arlington in the morning for the state Capitol in Austin and returning later that day. The company reported that Marc Veasey, a full-time Frost congressional staffer, made the reservation. The company's contact number for Veasey was Frostís congressional office in Washington.
Eisenhauer said the bus was rented to ferry district activists to monitor the redistricting vote in the state House, which was aborted when the Democrats fled the state. He quoted Veasey as denying he had made the reservation.
Yet another instance where the line between official duties and political activity seems blurred appears in a Nov. 25 e-mail from Angleís House account to John Gonzalez, chief of staff to Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas). It was inadvertently sent to a Republican aide and made available to The Hill.
"You should have received the expert reports by now," Angle wrote. "Also, as you heard on the call, Susman [Godfrey] wants Frost and Bell to give them the polls [sic] results recently taken by our bosses."
Susman Godfrey is the name of the law firm that represents Democrats in their anti-redistricting suits.
Eisenhauer declined to discuss the matter, other than to say that "we follow the guidelines issued by the House Administration Committee" and "this brief message clearly complies with those guidelines."