So now we know that Tom DeLay has been officially admonished again by the House Ethics Committee.
The lawmaker from Sugar Land was cited for apparently linking political donations to legislation and for recruiting federal aviation officials to help search for Texas House members who fled Austin last year.
Action on a third allegation involving DeLay’s political fund-raising practices was deferred until a criminal investigation under way in Austin runs its course.
The ethics committee’s findings — prompted by complaints from Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston — were outlined in a 44-page report recommending no further action against DeLay. The panel’s top Republican and Democrat had examined the charges for three months.
The admonishment spares DeLay a more lengthy investigation by the committee less than four weeks before he faces re-election in his Fort Bend County district.
“Admonishment doesn’t even exist in the House rules,” DeLay said shortly after a late-night, closed-door meeting with a dozen GOP House leaders, including Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., outside the House chamber.
Bell said that while he was “pleased” by the committee’s action, the panel should have named an independent investigator to examine the charges against DeLay. “I think people find it somewhat extraordinary that the ethics committee has had to admonish the majority leader twice in one week,” he said.
Democrat Richard Morrison, a Sugar Land lawyer who is challenging DeLay’s re-election in District 22, said, “Every American knows it’s three strikes and you’re out of the game. That’s the way it works in baseball, and that’s the way it should work for Tom DeLay.”
In its report Wednesday, the ethics panel found that DeLay “created an appearance” of favoritism when he attended a Virginia golf outing in 2003 with executives from Westar Energy just days after they gave $25,000 to one of his political committees.
The committee also expressed “serious concerns” about DeLay’s effort to get the Federal Aviation Administration to help locate Texas Democratic lawmakers who had fled the state in an effort to thwart Republican legislators from passing a DeLay-engineered redistricting plan.
I inlcuded the Morrison quote just because it’s the first time the Chron has bothered to quote him in any of these articles.
The whole memo is here. Several points to highlight. First, regarding the concept of “letter of admonishment”:
Resolution of a complaint by means of a letter to the respondent is appropriate where, according to the information before the Committee, the respondent’s conduct either violates or raises concerns under House Rules or standards of conduct, but the circumstances – including the completeness of the information before the Committee, and the nature of the violation – indicate that a formal investigation is not warranted. While the Committee does not hesitate to launch a formal investigation where there is any unresolved issue of material fact, or the conduct involved indicates that a formal sanction may be in order, the Committee has resolved a number of complaints by such a letter. In the past such letters have not been formally termed as “letters of admonition,” but this term accurately describes the substance of these letters.
As for the charges themselves, it breaks down as follows:
1. The charge that DeLay solicited contributions from Westar and acted on them was dismissed. DeLay was admonished for his appearance at an energy industry fundraiser in 2002:
As a general matter, fundraisers directed to a particular industry or to others sharing a particular federal interest are permissible, and at such events Members are free to talk about their record and positions on issues of interest to the attendees. In addition, of course, a Member has no control over what the donors at a fundraising event spontaneously say to or ask of the Member with regard to their legislative interests. Nevertheless, there are a number of considerations regarding this particular fundraiser that raise serious concerns under the standards of conduct discussed above.
In particular, there was the timing of the fundraiser, i.e., it took place just as the House-Senate conference on major energy legislation, H.R. 4, was about to get underway. Indeed, one of the communications between organizers of the fundraiser – an e-mail of May 30, 2002 from Mr. Maloney to Mr. Perkins that notes the legislative interests of each of the attendees – includes a specific reference to the conference. (That e-mail is included in Attachment M.) In addition, there was the fact that Representative DeLay was in a position to significantly influence the conference, both as a member of the House leadership and, by action taken about a week and a half after the fundraiser, his appointment as one of the conferees.
In view of these considerations, other aspects of the fundraiser that would have been unobjectionable otherwise had the effect, in these specific circumstances, of furthering the appearance that the contributors were receiving impermissible special treatment or access. One of these aspects was the presence at the fundraiser of two key staff members from Representative DeLay’s leadership office: Jack Victory, who handled energy issues, and the office counsel, Carl Thorsen. In addition, there were the limited number of attendees, and the fact that the fundraiser included several events at a resort over a two-day period, both of which facilitated direct contact with Representative DeLay and his congressional staff members.
In view of the circumstances of the June 2002 energy company fundraiser, as detailed in this memorandum, Representative DeLay’s facilitation of and participation in that event were contrary to those standards. Those circumstances included not only the nature of the event, but also its timing, in that it took place just as the House-Senate conference on the energy legislation – legislation of vital importance to the contributors at the fundraiser – was about to commence. Moreover, Representative DeLay was in a strong position to influence the conference, both because of his leadership position and the fact that about a week and a half after the fundraiser, he was named a conferee. At a minimum, his actions created the appearance that donors were being provided with special access to him with regard to the pending energy legislation.
I should note that this section talks as much about “Smoky Joe” Barton as it does about DeLay. Maybe Barton needs to be admonished as well.
2. The complaint about TRPMAC was deferred pending the still-ongoing Travis County grand jury investigation.
3. Count 3 had to do with DeLay’s contacts with the Department of Justice and the FAA in the immediate aftermath of the State House Democrats’ walkout in May of 2003 over redistricting. The contact DeLay had with the DOJ was ruled proper, but the contact he had with the FAA was not:
In contrast, our conclusion regarding the contacts with the FAA seeking flight information is that, at a minimum, they raise serious concerns under the House standards of conduct summarized above. Briefly stated, according to the information we have obtained, those contacts were made solely at the request the Texas House Speaker; the request was made in connection with a partisan conflict in which he was engaged at the time with Democratic members of the Texas House; and the information that Representative DeLay’s office obtained from the FAA was relayed solely to the Texas House Speaker.
The memo goes on to discuss and refute DeLay’s defenses to this charge. In my mind, this was the strongest language used about his conduct.
The memo also discusses three countercharges that DeLay made against Chris Bell. Two of them – that the complaint was not properly filed, and that Bell solicited outside help in drafting it – were dismissed. The third, that Bell’s complaint included “innuendo, speculative assertions and conclusory statements in violation of Committee Rule 15(a)(4)” was deferred with the intent “to bring it before the Committee in the near future.” Nothing further was said about it. Bell might be vulnerable here based on the language used in dismissing much of Complaint 1. I have no clue when or if the committee will pursue this further.
Finally, the memo discusses and dismisses the suggestion that an outside counsel should have been appointed. I thought this was the weakest part of the whole thing. On the other hand, perhaps the clamor to outsource the job spurred the Committee into actually taking action on it themselves.
So there you have it. And just in case you think you’re about to go into DeLay Sleaze Withdrawal, the Chron reports on evidence which “indicates DeLay was more than a passive participant in TRMPAC fund-raising events.” There’ll always be more where that came from when DeLay is involved.