Tom DeLay raises Republican hackles as ethics charges dominate news

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, on the steps of the capitol.

As Tom DeLay's (Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas), alleged ethical lapses began to dominate American political news stories and the Sunday talk shows, have led some Republican members of the Majority Leader’s own party to question the reasoning for his refusal to account for his actions or resign.

Last year, in a glimpse of problems yet to surface, the Republican head of the U.S. House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, or "House Ethics Committee", presided over three admonitions that included offering to endorse the candidacy of a political lawmaker’s son in exchange for votes on legislation. The ethics complaints were originally filed by Democratic Rep. Chris Bell of Texas on June 15, 2004, and began to heat up in the months prior to last year's elections.

A Texas grand jury is taking a hard look at Delay’s fund raising practices, and has already indicted three of his close associates. Last week the Washington Post reported that Mr. DeLay took a trip to Moscow in 1997, financed by lobbyists of the Russian Government.

Delay’s representative, Dan Allen, told reporters "Congressman DeLay's effective leadership to build and strengthen the House majority is exactly the reason he is being targeted by liberal groups funded by George Soros."

But Christopher Shays, a Republican from Connecticut, a Republican moderate, told the Associated Press that DeLay’s "conduct is hurting the Republican Party" and "hurting any Republican who is up for re-election [in 2006]."

The news agency reported that DeLay would look forward to meeting the charges with the ethics committee in a sit-down and blamed all of his problems on House Democrats.

Senator Chris Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut, advised his Republican colleagues strongly to “Be careful about how closely you embrace Mr. DeLay, as long as he's there, he's going to become a pretty good target." His remarks were nationally televised on ABC TV.

Those Republicans working with the Majority Leader said his ethics are only a problem to Democrats trying to regain power in the House. But the Ethics Committee’s membership is equally divided between Republicans and Democrats.

Other Republicans are starting to get jittery about their reelection hopes if DeLay is allowed to retain power.

"Tom's conduct is hurting the Republican Party, is hurting this Republican majority and it is hurting any Republican who is up for re-election," Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., told the Associated Press after making similar comments at community meetings in his home district this weekend.

He told reporters he thinks DeLay should step down.

The third-ranking Republican in the Senate, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, said DeLay needs to “clear the air.” But he thinks everything done by DeLay was “according to the law.”

"I think he has to come forward and lay out what he did and why he did it and let the people then judge for themselves," he said on ABC's This Week, a Sunday political talk program. "Now you may not like some of the things he's done, that’s for the people of his district to decide, whether they want to approve that kind of behavior."

Santorum faces reelection in 2006.

State and Federal investigations of Tom DeLay

DeLay is under investigation by the Travis County (Texas) district attorney, Democrat Ronnie Earle, who has already indicted three members of DeLay's organization, Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee (TRMPAC), on charges of money laundering and accepting illegal campaign contributions.

DeLay and his associates are alleged to have created a front group to launder money obtained through this illegal method. The District attorney believes he is enforcing the law enacted by the Texas lawmakers.

DeLay and his supporters contended that this investigation and the indictments were politically motivated maneuvers by the Democratic Travis County, Texas District Attorney Ronnie Earle. Earle has been characterized as a controversial and colorful political figure with a history of pursuing unconventional indictments against elected officials including Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. However, his record shows that he has indicted more Democrats than Republicans.

Federal investigators are probing a lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, another DeLay associate, for bilking millions of dollars from Native American casino operators for promises of congressional action to support their businesses. Abramoff and others may have underwritten overseas travel for the Majority Leader, which is a violation of law.

Reactions to intervention in Terri Schiavo case

DeLay has taken on the nation’s independent judiciary, particularly those who disagreed with him on the reinsertion of the feeding tube for Terri Schiavo, a brain damaged Florida woman who died on March 31. Reports that he pulled the life support from his own father, when he was fatally injured in the 1980’s, didn’t deter him.

"The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior," DeLay said of the judges.

Asked what his associates think of DeLay’s latest slew of bad news, spokesman Dan Allen replied, "Members were very supportive through the week last week and going into the weekend."

The Bush administration said that DeLay has not become the political liability that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, became in 2002.

Loyalty has a price

Both Chris Shays and Joel Hefley, a Republican from Colorado, the past chairman of the House ethics committee who sanctioned DeLay three times, have signed a resolution, crafted by Democrats, that would end some of the rules changes that their own party pushed through to help DeLay only three months ago. DeLay voted for the changes to cover his actions as well.

Hefley said "A lot of folks mention quietly that they are concerned about it. On the other hand, you have a lot of members standing up and pledging their undying support for Mr. DeLay,"

Eleven years after the Republicans swept power in the Congress from the Democrats, they seem more intent on protecting DeLay than keeping the “Contract with America,” according to critics. They say “that is the corrupting influence of power.”

DeWayne Wickham of USA Today asks, “How will voters respond to this breach of the Contract?” The next federal elections will take place in November of 2006.