House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, was unanimously rebuked by the ethics committee Wednesday for involving a federal agency in a Texas partisan matter and staging a fund-raiser in a way that appeared to link access to the congressman with political donations.
It was the second time in a week that DeLay, who ranks second in the House GOP hierarchy, had been admonished by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct for his hard-nosed tactics. The panel has five Republican and five Democratic members.
"In view of the number of instances to date in which the committee has found it necessary to comment on conduct in which you have engaged, it is clearly necessary for you to temper your future actions to assure that you are in full compliance at all times with the applicable House rules and standards of conduct," the committee said.
In a statement, DeLay said Wednesday night that he considered the ethics matter dismissed, but noted: "I accept the committee's guidance."
Observers said the committee's action could affect DeLay's political future. One conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch, called on DeLay to step down as majority leader.
"Some large battleships can remain afloat after taking one torpedo," said Don Kettl, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "But a second can disable them or bring them down. DeLay was heavily wounded by the first rebuke. The second could cripple him at best -- or cost him his leadership position at worst."
DeLay, 57, was elected to Congress in 1984 and became majority leader two years ago. Known as "The Hammer," he has played a key role in setting the House legislative agenda. For example, he recently prevented the House from voting on an extension of the ban on assault weapons -- a measure he opposed.
In his statement, DeLay said: "For years, Democrats have hurled relentless personal attacks at me, hoping to tie my hands and smear my name. All have fallen short, not because of insufficient venom, but because of insufficient merit."
Among DeLay's activities cited by the committee was his involvement in efforts to find Democratic state legislators who fled the Texas capital in 2003, hoping by their absence to prevent the Republican-controlled Legislature from redrawing congressional district boundaries.
He was accused of contacting the Federal Aviation Administration to track an airplane carrying the legislators out of state. DeLay told the committee that he had done so at the request of the speaker of the Texas House.
The new political map, drawn with DeLay's help, is expected to tilt Texas' delegation to the U.S. House from a slim Democratic majority to firm Republican control after the November election and, in turn, strengthen GOP control of the chamber.
On Sept. 30, DeLay was admonished by the same committee for offering to support a colleague's son's congressional campaign in exchange for the congressman's support for the Medicare overhaul legislation that narrowly passed last year. DeLay was also rebuked by the committee in 1999 for threatening a trade association after it hired a Democrat as its president.
Wednesday's criticism comes a month after three fund-raisers with ties to DeLay were indicted in Texas, accused of funneling illegal corporate campaign funds to Republican candidates for state office as part of the GOP takeover of the Legislature.
DeLay has said he has not been contacted by Texas authorities.
A number of DeLay's GOP colleagues accused Rep. Chris Bell, D-Texas, who filed the 187-page complaint in June, of waging a personal vendetta against the majority leader. Bell lost a primary this year in one of the newly redrawn Texas districts.
During a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday evening, DeLay's attorney, former congressman Ed Bethune, threw the complaint into the trash can.
"There are no charges pending against Tom DeLay anywhere by anybody," Bethune said. "There is no special counsel going to be appointed, there is no investigative subcommittee to be appointed. There is no further action to be taken. There are no sanctions."
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., also expressed support for his top lieutenant. "He fights hard for what he believes, but he has never put personal interests ahead of the best interests of the country," Hastert said in a statement, adding that he was troubled that the ethics committee had become a "battleground for politics."
For his part, Bell called on DeLay to step down as majority leader. Noting that this was the third ethics committee rebuke of Delay during his career, Bell said, "Three strikes and you're out."
In the letter to DeLay, the committee's Republican chairman, Rep. Joel Hefley of Colorado, and its top Democrat, Rep. Allan B. Mollohan of West Virginia, said that although the majority leader had described what he did as part of his work to advance his party's agenda, they believed the actions admonished Wednesday and last week "went beyond the bounds of acceptable conduct."
"The fact that a violation results from the overaggressive pursuit of one's legislative agenda simply does not constitute a mitigating factor," they wrote.
Bell also accused DeLay of funneling illegal corporate campaign contributions to Texas state candidates, but the committee said it was deferring any action on that issue because of pending investigations by Texas authorities.
In addition to DeLay's involvement in the redistricting matter, the committee found that the majority leader had staged a June 2002 "energy company golf fund-raiser" at the same time that House and Senate negotiators were considering an energy bill.
The committee report found that neither DeLay nor anyone acting on his behalf had improperly solicited contributions from Westar Energy Inc., a Kansas company whose officials attended the fund-raiser, nor did it find that DeLay took any action that would constitute an "impermissible special favor" for Westar.
However, the committee concluded that DeLay's staging of the fund-raiser -- in which Westar made a $25,000 contribution to DeLay's political war chest -- was "objectionable in that, at a minimum, his conduct created at least the appearance that donors were being provided with special access to Rep. DeLay regarding the then-pending energy legislation."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun