House ethics members got funds from DeLay PACGroups call for independent counsel
By Suzanne Gamboa, Associated Press
July 16, 2004
WASHINGTON -- Four of the five House ethics committee Republicans investigating Majority Leader Tom DeLay have accepted money in the past from the fundraising operation involved in the complaint against him.
Although leaders in both parties maintain organizations to raise money for candidates, the appearance of a conflict in DeLay's case is enough to warrant hiring an independent counsel of the type that investigated dethroned former House speakers Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich, watchdog groups said Thursday.
"Mr. DeLay's stature as one of the most powerful members of Congress--with the capacity to extract retribution from anyone--makes it especially difficult for his peers to sit in judgment of him," said Common Cause President Chellie Pingree.
DeLay, who has denied the charges against him, said through a spokesman that an independent counsel is unnecessary.
"We have full confidence the ethics committee will handle this in a proper manner," said aide Jonathan Grella.
The Texas Republican's political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority, contributed $38,731 to four ethics committee members in the 1994 to 2004 election cycles, according the Center for Responsive Politics and PoliticalMoneyLine, groups that track political money.
Ethics committee members who got money include Doc Hastings of Washington, $5,930; Judy Biggert of Illinois, $1,764; Kenny Hulshof of Missouri, $14,964; and Steven LaTourette of Ohio, $16,073. Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), the ethics panel's chairman, did not receive any contributions from Americans for a Republican Majority during the period.
In 2001, DeLay used $75,000 from ARMPAC to establish another political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority. Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas) filed a complaint last month charging that DeLay illegally solicited and accepted political contributions from Kansas-based Westar Corp. for Texans for a Republican Majority in return for legislative favors.
Bell's complaint also alleges that DeLay abused his office by getting the Federal Aviation Administration and FBI agents to help track down Texas Democratic legislators when they left the state to prevent Republicans from passing a redistricting bill DeLay wanted. Bell lost a March primary for re-election after he was redistricted.
Hefley expressed confidence that the Republicans on his committee who received money from DeLay's political committee would not be influenced by the contributions.
"I don't have any question that they will do a fair and honorable job, without letting the contributions affect their judgment," Hefley said Thursday. But he also said he would support hiring an independent counsel if there was an "overwhelming reason."
Grella and another DeLay aide attended a news conference by the watchdog groups. They handed out lists of contributions by leaders of watchdog groups to Democrats and contributions from Democratic leaders to Democrats on the ethics panel.
The ethics committee, officially titled the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, is reviewing Bell's complaint. It has to decide by early August whether to launch a formal investigation, dismiss the complaint or take more time reviewing it.