June 14, 2004
Bell v. DeLay

Outgoing Rep. Chris Bell, a casualty of the DeLay-engineered redistricting, is fighting back by filing an ethics complaint against The Hammer. This is sure to send shock waves around DC, as it is the first real ethic complaint since the House rules were changed in 1997.

Bell's move against DeLay is unusual in that it defies an unofficial but widely acknowledged truce among House lawmakers against filing ethics complaints against each other.

Under House rules, only a member can file an ethics complaint against another member. In seven years, there has been little activity in House ethics investigations, said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

"I think this filing will really push the ethics committee to take a hard look at this," said Sloan, a federal prosecutor who worked with Bell in drafting the complaint. "When no one has been willing to do this for seven years, it is not an easy thing to suddenly go and file a complaint against DeLay, who is known to be one of the most vindictive people in government."


[Bell spokesman Eric] Burns declined to provide the document until it is filed and would only confirm that the complaint is in the works. However, two people who have seen the complaint say it will allege, among other things, that DeLay:

Improperly accepted campaign contributions from Kansas-based Westar Energy Corp. in exchange for help securing a special exemption from federal regulation.

Funneled illegal corporate contributions, including from Westar and others, through the Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee to GOP candidates for the Texas House.

Solicited the assistance of the Federal Aviation Administration to track more than 50 Texas Democratic lawmakers who fled from Austin to Ardmore, Okla., in 2003. Their exodus denied the state House a quorum and temporarily stalled work on the DeLay-backed redistricting program.

In each instance, DeLay has denied any wrongdoing. [DeLay spokesman Jonathan] Grella said Bell's allegations rely on a shopworn "caricature" of DeLay as an ethics violator.


Norman Ornstein, a political scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said Bell's filing against DeLay will be a test of the House ethics system.

"It's not like the Republicans are suddenly going to say, `Oh, we have this bad guy in our midst,'" Ornstein said. "What it will do is provide yet another story about DeLay, and it puts him right back into the controversy that he has courted for so long."

Under rules of the House committee, members have between five and 14 days to determine whether a complaint meets the committee standards. Members can ask for successive 45-day periods to consider the matter.

"The odds of the committee doing anything in the short-term are very slim," Ornstein said. "What is also true is that the last thing House Republicans want to do is rush to judgment against Tom DeLay."

Well, this will surely be worth keeping an eye on. Democrats have maintained this truce despite all kinds of Republican misbehavior lately, even coming under some criticism for it by good-government types. Will Bell get the tacit or not-so-tacit support of the leadership, or will he get pressure from his own team to back off? I hope The Stakeholder, which also noted this story, will have some insider scoop in the coming days.

Check out the comments in this Kos diary entry for some more background on the House Ethics Committee and the longstanding ceasefire that Bell has broken.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 14, 2004 to Scandalized! | TrackBack