U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's federal leadership political fund apparently coordinated with a Texas committee to deliver $23,000 in contributions to Texas House candidates, according to documents filed in a civil lawsuit.
The documents draw DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority deeper into the ongoing controversy over whether Texans for a Republican Majority illegally used corporate money to help finance the GOP takeover of the Texas House in 2002. Republicans contend the money was spent legally.
DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and his aides have maintained that TRMPAC had nothing to do with his leadership political committee, ARMPAC, though some of his associates worked for both. But the new documents show a working relationship between the groups.
DeLay's relationship to TRMPAC was that of a loose advisory position. ARMPAC is his official leadership committee he uses to raise money for congressional candidates across the United States to help him maintain his position in the House.
The new documents, filed as evidence in a pending civil lawsuit against TRMPAC Treasurer Bill Ceverha, are copies of ARMPAC checks and letters on TRMPAC's stationery that were delivered together to 15 House candidates. The amounts ranged from $1,000 to $2,500.
"We are pleased to send you a contribution of (amount) compliments of Congressman Tom DeLay's political action committee Americans for a Republican Majority," the letter said. "Congressman DeLay is as equally committed to winning a House Republican majority in Texas as he is maintaining a Republican majority in the U.S. Congress."
The letters were signed by Ceverha, but he has testified he never saw most of what TRMPAC sent out under his name.
Putting it more substantially:
Liz Spayd, national editor of The Post, said Tuesday evening, "His office has not called here to challenge any facts in our story. If they did we would certainly listen to his concerns."
The good news is that all this is starting to play in Peoria.
One senior House Republican voiced his concerns to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's (R-Ill.) chief of staff after seeing a front-page story on DeLay in one of his home-state newspapers Tuesday morning.
"The perception is that we're not in control of the ethics process, that DeLay can do what he wants," said the lawmaker. "It's giving the party a bad name…. This thing is no different and has the same flavor and tone as when we knocked Jim Wright out."
Mr. DeLay may in fact be guilty of no wrongdoing, but his actions and those of his most ardent backers betray a cynical indifference to congressional ethics. If House Republicans aren't blind to their oversight responsibilities, they will remove ethics panel members who have already taken sides on behalf of Mr. DeLay and displayed an arrogant disregard for what the public may think. Defenders who say Mr. DeLay is the victim of politically motivated attacks are -- perhaps unwittingly -- repeating the lines used by Mr. Wright's supporters against Mr. Gingrich. It didn't do Mr. Wright much good.
How long the GOP will put up with DeLay's power plays and ethical lapses is a matter for speculation. But some Republicans already are acknowledging that DeLay's position is weakening.
One Republican consultant quoted recently resorted to a remarkable bit of verbal gymnastics to describe DeLay's position. "The situation is negatively fluid right now for the guy," he said.
DeLay brought this on himself. His scorched-earth partisanship, coziness with lobbyists and flippant attitude toward House ethics rules made him a vulnerable target.
Republicans would be wise to get themselves another majority leader before more damage is done.
Recent allegations involving DeLay have put the spotlight on the ethics gridlock in the House. The Washington Post reported that DeLay and his wife took a trip to England that might have been paid for by a lobbyist for Indian tribe gambling interests. DeLay later voted against a bill that would have hurt those gambling interests, even though he is on record opposing the spread of legalized gambling. Media reports have also detailed how DeLay, other members of Congress and staff members, in violation of House rules, allowed an organization registered as a foreign agent to pay for their trips to South Korea.
This is no time to let partisanship paralyze Congress' ability to police itself. Just as House Republicans eventually reversed a decision that would have allowed DeLay to keep his leadership position even if indicted, they should now restore the ethics committee's limited power to initiate investigations without a majority vote. By submitting the matter to a vote of the full House, at least constituents will find out what's more important to their elected representative: party loyalty or ethical behavior.
Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), the former chairman of the House ethics committee, said yesterday that he will co-sponsor a bill to repeal or revise changes that Republican leaders made to the committee’s procedure at the start of the 109th Congress.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Alan Mollohan (W.Va.), the ranking Democrat on the ethics committee, who along with four other Democrats has refused to adopt new rules for the committee until his proposed changes to ethics procedures are adopted or given serious consideration.
More than 190 House Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill since Mollohan introduced it two weeks ago. Thus far, only one Republican, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) has signed up as a co-sponsor. But Hefley’s support is expected to provide incentive and political cover to other Republicans who are thinking about supporting the ethics legislation.