DeLay Probe: House panel should name outside counselEditorial, Dallas Morning News
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
Let's say you get called for jury duty. It happens that the person on trial once gave you money. Would you expect to get picked for that jury?
You'd expect to be sent home, pronto, and for good reason.
Even if you, as an upright and fair-minded citizen, could put the financial tie completely out of your mind, how could those of us looking on, who can't get inside your head, be confident in your impartiality?
That's essentially the situation in Washington, where Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas stands accused of unethical fund-raising practices. Four of the five Republicans on the committee investigating him have received money from his political action committee.
The sums aren't huge – no more than $15,000 to any one person. But the payments illustrate how difficult it is for members of Congress – a body that exists on back-scratching and favor-swapping, sometimes in the form of hard, cold cash – to police themselves.
That difficulty is compounded many-fold when the subject of the probe is the House member with the greatest ability to reward friends and punish enemies. That's why former House ethics panels appointed outside counsels to handle investigations of former speakers Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich.
(It was Mr. Gingrich, you may recall, who held up the Democrats as the example of the effects of a single party wielding too much power. Something about "a cancer threatening the very essence of representative freedom.")
Turning the probe over to an outsider was sensible then, and it's sensible now. In fact, some scholars of congressional ethics would make such an appointment mandatory in all ethics investigations.
Without going that far, it's clear that, if ever there was a good time to bring in an impartial investigator, this is it.