Outside investigation of DeLay ethics charge warrantedAustin American Statesman Editorial
Friday, July 16, 2004
The ethics committee of the U.S. House of Representatives is investigating a complaint regarding campaign fund raising and spending by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Yet, four of the five Republicans on the committee have received campaign contributions from DeLay, who as majority leader also wields enormous influence over the House careers of his fellow Republicans.
If the House were still run by Democrats and DeLay were a Democrat, it's easy to imagine how loud Republicans would scream about conflicts of interest. And they would be right. An outside investigation should be arranged.
The complaint against DeLay was filed by a Democrat, Rep. Chris Bell of Houston. Bell accused DeLay of illegally soliciting campaign contributions in return for legislative favors and laundering illegal corporate contributions to influence Texas elections. And, Bell charged, during last year's legislative redistricting fight in Texas, DeLay improperly used his office to solicit help from federal agencies to hunt for Texas House Democrats who had left the state.
DeLay has denied the charges. And Republicans have noted that Bell is a lame duck.
The amount of money given by DeLay to four of the five Republicans on the ethics committee is not huge, nor is it recent. The most, $14,777, went to Rep. Kenny Hulshof of Missouri; the most recent contributions to any of the four were made in 2000. The Republican chairman of the committee, Rep. Joel Hefley of Colorado, has received no money from DeLay's political action committee.
But DeLay's committee also has given $65,902 to eight of the 10 Republican representatives designated by House Speaker Dennis Hastert to serve on potential investigative subcommittees.
The ethics committee has 10 members, five Republicans and five Democrats. Virtually everything it does is done secretly, and it has a long and undistinguished record of doing not much at all. It won't take complaints from anyone except members of the House of Representatives, who are not inclined to complain.
An outside investigator, chosen by committee members of both parties, is likely to do a more thorough, more credible job examining the complaint than a strictly in-House job. And the result of such an investigation, whether it clears DeLay or recommends disciplinary action, should be made available to the public, which has the most interest in its findings.