Some various bits of Tom DeLay-related news from the past few days...
This week, DeLay opponents latched onto the case of Peter Cloeren, who owns a plastics company in Orange, Texas.
In 1996, Mr. Cloeren, a self-described conservative Republican, had given as much as federal law allowed to East Texas congressional candidate Brian Babin, a Woodville dentist. Then, one day that summer he sat next to Mr. DeLay at a Babin luncheon.
In an affidavit he gave House investigators two years later, Mr. Cloeren said he was frustrated that he couldn't do more for Dr. Babin. According to the affidavit, Mr. DeLay, then majority whip, replied that "it would not be a problem for him to find, in his words, 'additional vehicles,' " and Mr. DeLay told an aide to provide "details of how to funnel additional moneys" to the Babin campaign.
Within months, federal records show, Mr. Cloeren and his wife gave tens of thousands of dollars to out-of-state congressional campaigns and groups. Donors to some of those groups later assisted the Babin campaign.
In 1998, Mr. Cloeren pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of federal campaign law, admitting that he got employees to donate $37,000 in their names to Dr. Babin and reimbursed them. A Beaumont federal court fined him and his company $400,000. Mr. DeLay was not implicated.
Two months later, Mr. Cloeren filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission accusing Mr. DeLay of luring him into the alleged donation scheme. In July 1999, the FEC cleared Mr. DeLay, noting Mr. Cloeren hadn't reimbursed anyone, and his claims lacked corroboration.
Democrats on the House Government Reform Committee tried to force an investigation in 1998. When Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., refused, they sent their own investigators to obtain Mr. Cloeren's affidavit.
"He said there's ways to get money into the Babin campaign," Mr. Cloeren said by phone this week. "He said his staff would take care of it."
DeLay aides dispute Mr. Cloeren's account. They note that the FEC cleared Mr. DeLay, while Mr. Cloeren has confessed to violating campaign law.
"I find it dubious that this guy's being treated like an innocent lamb and my boss is being treated like public enemy No. 1," said DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella.
Larry Noble, director of the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, a campaign watchdog group, was the FEC general counsel who oversaw the Cloeren case and recommended clearing Mr. DeLay in 1999.
He said that even if Mr. DeLay suggested the scheme Mr. Cloeren described – and Mr. Cloeren provided the only testimony to that effect – conspiracy isn't covered by civil laws the FEC enforces.
Still, Mr. Noble said, "He's one of those people who pushes the envelope and plays on the edges."
Mr. Bell said he'll call the Cloeren incident to the ethics committee's attention. "Mr. DeLay continues to try to distance himself from all this nefarious activity, but here he was the instructor for Mr. Cloeren on how to get around the campaign finance laws."
Publicly, Republican lawmakers have explained their lack of a response by dismissing Bell's 187-page complaint as "frivolous" and a symptom of Democrats' alleged inability to craft a substantive agenda.
But privately, many GOP Members and aides said they have reached a strategic conclusion: If there's an ethics war, they can't win.
Elsewhere, this AP story gets quotes from various campaign watchdog types about those Enron emails:
The e-mails "really do pull the curtain back and give you a view of how it's done," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political contributions and spending.
"The e-mails are an indication of what goes on behind closed doors," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, an ethics watchdog group that has filed suits over political fund-raising.
Both Democrats and Republicans, he said, "engage in a shell game that from outside may look at times technically legal, but when you get these communications on contributions solicited for the campaign, their technical arguments fall apart."
In an e-mail from May 31, 2001, Enron lobbyists Rick Shapiro and Linda Robertson discuss a $50,000 contribution solicited by Republican organizations for a dinner saluting President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
"With the assistance of Congressman Tom DeLay we were able to apply our previously contributed soft money toward this dinner. Consequently, we will be credited as giving $250,000 to this event, even though we are being asked to give only $50,000 in new soft money," according to the e-mail sent to Enron's now ex-chairman, Kenneth Lay, and a second executive.
The e-mails show "pretty clearly corporations were being asked for contributions by members of Congress who held the fate of legislation important to corporations in their hands," said Trevor Potter, president and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a campaign finance monitoring group.
"There's always a risk this will creep back into the system, and politicians will again try to raise it. These e-mails point out the dangers of that to an ethical form of government," said Potter, a former member of the Federal Elections Commission, which regulates political fund raising and spending.
Just as Enron wanted credit for its contribution, Republican lawmakers vied for credit in raising the money, e-mails show.
Bringing in lots of political money helps raise a politician's stature in the party, said Edwin Bender, executive director of the Institute on Money in State Politics, based in Helena, Mont.
The Enron lobbyists said in the e-mail they would split credit for $100,000 of the contribution among DeLay; former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas; Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who is now chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La.
The lobbyists said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, "has requested that Enron give her some of the credit" for the other $100,000 in the contribution.
And finally, a brief update on the possibility of outside counsel getting involved in the ethics complaint.
The chairman of the House ethics panel probing a complaint against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay says it is too early to tell whether an outside counsel should take over the investigation of the Sugar Land Republican.
"I have never been in favor of an outside counsel unless there's an overwhelming reason to do so. But so far, we are not at the stage of knowing if there's an overwhelming reason," said committee Chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colo.
Two government watchdog groups, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Common Cause, argue that DeLay's power and political influence over his party members make it difficult for them to investigate him.
UPDATE: And another op-ed, this one from Amarillo.
If U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, wants to counter claims by two watchdog groups that he is guilty of misusing campaign donations, then he should push for an independent investigation. DeLay is under fire for allegedly trading donations for favors. The House Ethics Committee is considering an investigation. However, four members of the committee have received donations from DeLay, which the watchdog groups claim tarnish the committee's legitimacy. DeLay, nicknamed "The Hammer" for his rough and tough political style, can drop the hammer on his opponents by supporting an independent investigation, which is nothing new in Washington. If the claims are unfounded, as DeLay's camp suggests, what better way to nail his detractors?