AdmonishmentThe House ethics committee rebuked Majority Leader Tom DeLay twice last week. DeLay seems to think the rules don't apply to him
Houston Chronicle, October 10 , 2004
It takes a lot to rouse the House ethics committee from its lethargy, but House Majority Leader Tom "The Hammer" DeLay successfully jarred it to action. For the second time in one week, the committee unanimously chastised Delay for improprieties and for behaving in a way that reflects poorly on him and the House.
The most recent rebuke, issued Wednesday in a letter, covered two separate violations. One was DeLay's participation in a 2002 fund-raiser that appeared to offer energy company executives access — and legislative influence — in exchange for campaign contributions. The golf expedition, which raised more than $125,000, occurred a week and a half before DeLay took part in a conference committee on energy legislation. "At a minimum," the ethics committee observed, "his conduct created at least the appearance that donors were being provided with special access to Representative DeLay regarding the then-pending energy legislation."
The committee also rebuked DeLay for improperly using federal resources to track down Democratic state legislators in May 2003. DeLay mobilized Federal Aviation Administration officials to search for the plane carrying Democratic lawmakers, who had fled Texas to stymie a congressional redistricting plan that would boost Republican clout.
"This action," the panel stated, "raises serious concerns under House standards of conduct that preclude use of government resources for a political undertaking."
Both ethics complaints were first raised by Democratic Rep. Chris Bell, who lost his primary after the redistricting. Wednesday's rebukes, however, follow a flurry of ethics controversies. Also last week, the ethics committee criticized DeLay for offering to endorse the congressional candidacy of a House member's son in exchange for the father's vote on a bill. In 1999, DeLay was chastised for threatening a trade association that had hired a Democratic lobbyist.
Though ethics committee rebukes are a rare gesture, they also come without penalty or any further action. To DeLay, the lack of punishment seems to equal exoneration. After he was admonished for the vote-trading offer, the congressman released a statement that only barely acknowledged he had transgressed at all. "The committee has provided guidance regarding a novel and very specific subject matter," he said, adding that his colleagues ought to "familiarize themselves with the committee's new guidance." Is he suggesting his colleagues are also indifferent to the rules?
DeLay responded similarly to the Wednesday rebuke, accepting "the committee's guidance" but accusing Bell of "manipulating the ethics process." To DeLay, improper appearances, conflicts of interest, even upheld ethics complaints don't amount to more than political static. It's an attitude reminiscent of Enron, which fostered the idea that traditional notions of honor and fairness didn't apply.
The House rules are there to keep members of Congress serving the public rather than themselves.