Complaint against DeLay deserves independent counselAustin American Statesman EDITORIAL BOARD
Monday, September 27, 2004
The investigation into corporate money raised and spent in the 2002 Texas House elections raises serious questions about the role both Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick and U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay played in the activities of Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee.
Both have tried to minimize their decision-making roles, but these questions can't and shouldn't be answered by a wave of the hand.
Craddick has admitted being a courier between corporate givers and the group and the three defendants indicted on charges of Texas campaign law violations — John Colyandro of Austin, Jim Ellis of Virginia and Warren Robold of Maryland — were all key figures in DeLay's fund raising.
DeLay, who carries national and state wallop, is also the target of a complaint filed with the House Ethics Committee by U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston.
The committee thus far has not taken action on the complaint that the majority leader took political contributions for legislative favors, improperly contacted federal authorities for political purposes and indulged in campaign finance violations.
DeLay waved away Bell's complaint as politically motivated, as well.
If the complaint indeed is politically motivated, what better way to resolve it than by appointing an independent counsel? An independent investigation would tell us whether Bell's accusations have merit or whether they were done to settle a political score. In either event, action is warranted because this isn't about politics, it's about trust, and either way, that trust has been abused. The U.S. House of Representatives has been reluctant, to put it mildly, to police itself in the past, and in any event, the questions raised by Bell are serious enough to warrant independent attention.
Ethics Committee Chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colo. and senior Democrat Alan Mollohan of West Virginia said Friday that the committee will make decisions "regardless of any political affiliations or personal relationships."
They just didn't say when the committee would render those impartial and nonpartisan decisions.
Washington speculation is that the committee is split 5-5 along party lines, which would effectively kill Bell's complaint. A split means the investigation doesn't go forward.
However, members of Congress are not above the law and allegations of the severity of those raised by Bell should get more than a cursory look with the outcome determined along partisan lines. Back and forth accusations aren't proof of anything. If DeLay's activities are legal, people need to know it. If the complaints against him have merit, people deserve to know that, as well.
The issue here is whether a member of Congress abused the trust that comes with the power he holds. If Bell's complaint was malicious and unfounded, an independent counsel can say so and recommend appropriate sanctions more credibly than his colleagues can.
Similarly, DeLay's colleagues, whose campaign efforts have been aided in the past by his fund-raising prowess, can't be the most objective arbiters of the complaints lodged against him.