Nothing brightens my week quite like a continued flow of news about bad behavior by Tom DeLay.
"If death comes from a thousand cuts, Tom DeLay is into a couple hundred, and it's getting up there," said a Republican political consultant close to key lawmakers. "The situation is negatively fluid right now for the guy. You start hitting arteries, it only takes a couple." The consultant, who at times has been a DeLay ally, spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he could not be candid otherwise.
THIS MAY NOT sound like news, but the House of Representatives is now an ethics-free zone. To be precise, it has no mechanism for investigating or disciplining members who violate ethics rules. The proximate cause of this breakdown is the revolt by the five Democrats on the evenly divided ethics committee. Led by the ranking Democrat, Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (W.Va.), committee Democrats understandably balked last week at acceding to new rules for how the panel should conduct its business -- rules dictated by the GOP leadership and slanted toward making the ethics process, already tilted in favor of gridlock, even more feckless.
Last week's tumultuous events cap a year in which the committee took the extraordinary step of issuing three admonitions to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), infuriating the majority leader and his supporters. In the aftermath, the ethics panel's chairman, Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), and two other committee Republicans were removed and replaced with those more loyal to the Republican team. In addition, the GOP leadership did its best to neuter the committee by rewriting the rules for the new Congress. When their own members were too embarrassed to go along, the leadership was forced to backtrack on some of the most egregious changes. It left in place three others, leading to the current standoff.
Republicans are now trying, laughably, to portray the impasse as the result of Democrats' refusal to "put the ethics process above partisan politics," as a spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) put it. Democrats have no lack of partisanship on this issue, but the GOP spin is hard to take from the people who rigged the rules and changed the players when they didn't like the result. Mr. Mollohan now has a single Republican, Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.), co-sponsoring his resolution. We would hope that -- especially in light of new ethical questions involving Mr. DeLay -- additional members of the majority will sign on, putting the long-term good of the institution ahead of the short-term interests of those with the greatest stake in an ineffectual ethics process.
The FBI is trying to trace what happened to $2.5 million in payments to a conservative Washington think tank that were routed to accounts controlled by two lobbyists with close ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, NEWSWEEK has learned. The payments to the National Center for Public Policy Research were meant for a PR campaign promoting Indian gaming, center officials said. But internal e-mails obtained by NEWSWEEK show the lobbyists, Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, DeLay's former press secretary, never documented any work performed or explained what they did with the money despite repeated requests. "We're disappointed and frustrated," said Amy Ridenour, the center's president. The group's records have been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury. One focus of the FBI probe, legal sources say, is whether the payments, as well as tens of millions of dollars in other fees collected by the two lobbyists from Indian tribes, were used for political contributions or to pay for trips and gifts to members of Congress.
[F]or the first time, a significant number of Republicans have begun to question DeLay's political survival. Frets a senior G.O.P. Congressman about the odor surrounding DeLay: "It just isn't going away."
A legal defense fund established by Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, has dramatically expanded its fund-raising effort in recent months, taking in more than $250,000 since the indictment last fall of two his closest political operatives in Texas, according to Mr. DeLay's latest financial disclosure statements.
The list of recent donors includes dozens of Mr. DeLay's House Republican colleagues, including two lawmakers who were placed on the House ethics committee this year, and several of the nation's largest corporations and their executives.
Among the corporate donors to the defense fund is Bacardi U.S.A., the Florida-based rum maker, which has also been indicted in the Texas investigation, and Reliant Energy, another major contributor to a Texas political action committee formed by Mr. DeLay that is the focus of the criminal inquiry.
UPDATE: ThinkProgress has a nice guide to all the latest scandals involving DeLay.
UPDATE: The Next Hurrah speculates as to who the six mystery Republicans mentioned in the first WaPo story might be, while The Stakeholder excerpts from that Roll Call story and from a Congressional Quarterly piece.
UPDATE: Welcome, Air America Radio listeners! Just about all of my historic DeLay-related stuff can be found here.Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 14, 2005 to Scandalized! | TrackBack