THE U.S. FAMILY NETWORK….To a limited extent, The U.S. Family Network, primarily a project of Tom DeLay, was already somewhat controversial. In April 2004, a Federal Election Commission investigation found that the group had illegally received $500,000 from the National Republican Congressional Committee. At the time, it just seemed like routine campaign shenanigans. The 2004 controversy, however, was but a footnote compared to the revelations from today’s Washington Post.

The U.S. Family Network, a public advocacy group that operated in the 1990s with close ties to Rep. Tom DeLay and claimed to be a nationwide grass-roots organization, was funded almost entirely by corporations linked to embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to tax records and former associates of the group.

During its five-year existence, the U.S. Family Network raised $2.5 million but kept its donor list secret. The list, obtained by The Washington Post, shows that $1 million of its revenue came in a single 1998 check from a now-defunct London law firm whose former partners would not identify the money’s origins.

Two former associates of Edwin A. Buckham, the congressman’s former chief of staff and the organizer of the U.S. Family Network, said Buckham told them the funds came from Russian oil and gas executives. Abramoff had been working closely with two such Russian energy executives on their Washington agenda, and the lobbyist and Buckham had helped organize a 1997 Moscow visit by DeLay (R-Tex.).

The former president of the U.S. Family Network said Buckham told him that Russians contributed $1 million to the group in 1998 specifically to influence DeLay’s vote on legislation the International Monetary Fund needed to finance a bailout of the collapsing Russian economy.

Just when it seemed things couldn’t much worse for DeLay, this blockbuster story is splashed all over the front page.

The poorly named U.S. Family Network was billed as an advocacy group focused on a conservative “moral fitness” agenda. The stated goals were basically a fraud. Indeed, the group hardly existed beyond its fundraising operation, USFN never actually advocated anything, and there was never a staff beyond one person. When DeLay wrote a fundraising letter for the group calling it “a powerful nationwide organization dedicated to restoring our government to citizen control” by mobilizing grass-roots citizen support, he was wildly misstating the facts.

The group was created to collect big checks from corporations, many of which were foreign, with lobbying ties to Abramoff. The story ties many of the Abramoff ends together, with this bogus nonprofit group at the middle.

[H]alf a million dollars was donated to the U.S. Family Network by the owners of textile companies in the Mariana Islands in the Pacific, according to the tax records. The textile owners — with Abramoff’s help — solicited and received DeLay’s public commitment to block legislation that would boost their labor costs, according to Abramoff associates, one of the owners and a DeLay speech in 1997.

A quarter of a million dollars was donated over two years by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Abramoff’s largest lobbying client, which counted DeLay as an ally in fighting legislation allowing the taxation of its gambling revenue.

The records, other documents and interviews call into question the very purpose of the U.S. Family Network, which functioned mostly by collecting funds from domestic and foreign businesses whose interests coincided with DeLay’s activities while he was serving as House majority whip from 1995 to 2002, and as majority leader from 2002 until the end of September.

As Josh Marshall explained, we’re talking about “a slush fund,” with “lots of secret money, often from overseas, that can get spread around off the books in DC.”

Not incidentally, Abramoff is putting the “finishing touches on a plea deal” with federal prosecutors, the results of which could be announced as early as Tuesday.

As Michael Crowley noted, there will likely be several congressional Republicans drinking champagne tonight “for distinctly non-celebratory reasons.”