Claims against DeLay are spelled out by BellPart of wide-ranging ethics complaint
By JULIE MASON, Houston Chronicle
June 16, 2004
WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston, accused House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land on Tuesday of accepting a $20,000 contribution to one of his political action committees from Bacardi USA in exchange for pushing a bill that would benefit the liquor company.
The allegation is part of a wide-ranging ethics complaint that Bell, whose congressional district borders DeLay's, filed Tuesday. As first reported in Monday's Houston Chronicle, Bell is asking the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to investigate claims that DeLay, a Republican, engaged in extortion, bribery and abuse of power in separate incidents during the last two years.
Bell's decision to proceed against DeLay pushed a simmering Texas political feud onto center stage this week on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers for seven years have observed an unofficial truce in filing such complaints against each other.
DeLay denied all of the allegations in Bell's ethics complaint, which he described as the work of a disgruntled partisan.
"Evidently he is very bitter about losing his primary and is using the ethics committee to express his bitterness," DeLay said of Bell. "I have never liked the politics of personal destruction."
DeLay called for President Clinton to resign after his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Bell, a freshman House member, lost his seat after DeLay pushed a congressional redistricting plan through the Legislature aimed at increasing the number of Republicans in the delegation, in part by targeting white Democrats such as Bell.
Bell lost a bitter March primary battle against Democrat Al Green, who is black and a former Harris County justice of the peace. Bell's term expires at the end of the year.
When the Chronicle first reported Bell would file the ethics complaint, he declined to discuss specifics. He released copies of the complaint at a news conference Tuesday.
The Bacardi allegation was included as an unexpected sidelight to a complaint that focuses on DeLay's dealings with Westar Energy Corp., the Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee he influences and his request for federal officials to track Democratic state lawmakers who fled Texas last year and held up the DeLay-backed redistricting plan. Democrats later lost a lawsuit in which they alleged the new congressional maps were unconstitutional.
"I expect the full wrath of Mr. DeLay's attack machine," Bell said after filing his ethics complaint. "He has created a climate of fear and retribution inside the people's House.
"Nothing about this complaint is going to bring back my seat."
In the Bacardi matter, DeLay allegedly accepted contributions to TRMPAC in 2002 in exchange for helping the beverage giant in a trademark dispute.
A spokesman for DeLay said the Bacardi matter has been "asked and answered." DeLay has denied that contributions from the company influenced his efforts on their behalf, and a company official also has denied the contributions were intended to buy influence.
Bell's case against DeLay brought an unwelcome focus to the unofficial moratorium on filing ethics complaints.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican and close ally of DeLay, said there has not been a truce so much as an agreement not to do "scurrilous" things to other members.
The ethics committee is made up of five Republicans and five Democrats.
Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, a member of the House ethics committee, declined to comment on Bell's complaint. He said there has been no official truce on ethics complaints.
"The committee has the right to initiate its own investigations, and we have on the Nick Smith matter," Green said, adding that much of the committee's work is done by the staff.
The case is pending before the ethics committee, Green said.
Tuesday, DeLay called the claims warmed-over press clippings and "nothing new."
"There is no substance to any of them," DeLay said.