Government Accountability

Tom DeLay’s Transgressions: A Pattern of Misbehavior


Unprecedented four admonishments by unanimous votes of the bipartisan House Ethics Committee

 

  • K Street Project (1999) – Admonished for threatening Electronic Industries Alliance for not hiring a Republican as its president.  The Ethics Committee itself initiated this investigation.
    Source: “Ethics Panel Chastises DeLay For Threatening Trade Group,” The Washington Post, May 14, 1999


  • Westar Energy (2004) – Admonished for creating at least the “appearance” that Westar Energy executives were provided special access at a West Virginia golf retreat as result of $25,000 in corporate contributions to Texans for a Republican Majority, a political group affiliated with DeLay. At the time of the retreat, the House was about to consider an energy bill that Westar hoped to influence. A complaint filed by former Rep. Chris Bell (D-TX) initiated this investigation.  Link
    Source: Memorandum to Members of the House Ethics Committee 


  • Texas Redistricting (2004) – Admonished for using government resources for a political undertaking. Delay’s staff contacted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) during the 2003 Texas redistricting battle to obtain information from FAA databases on the whereabouts of Democratic Members of the Texas House who had fled Austin in a plane for the purpose of denying the House a quorum.  A complaint filed by Bell initiated this investigation.  Link
    Source: Memorandum to Members of the House Ethics Committee  


  • Medicare Bill (2004) – Admonished for offering to endorse Rep. Nick Smith’s (R-MI) son, who would be running for Congress, on the House floor in exchange for Rep. Smith’s vote in favor of the Medicare/prescription drug bill. The Ethics Committee itself initiated this investigation.  Link
    Source: Investigation of Certain Allegations Related to Voting on the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003

 

Pending case

 

  • Illegal Campaign Contributions (2005) – The House Ethics Committee last year was asked to investigate Rep. DeLay for allegedly using his political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), to launder corporate money to Texas state campaigns in 2002, a violation of state law.  The committee decided not to take action on the complaint until after Travis County (Austin), Texas District Attorney Ronnie Earle completes his investigation of TRMPAC activities and until indictments against DeLay associates in Texas are disposed of.  Link
    Source: Memorandum to Members of the House Ethics Committee 


Questionable Conduct (not considered by House Ethics Committee)

 

  • Celebrations for Children (CFC) – This charity, which counted DeLay political operatives among its officers,  planned to sell tee times to Long Island golf courses, as well as VIP tickets to Broadway plays, yacht cruises and other events that offered access to DeLay during the 2004 Republican convention in New York. The plan was an attempt to misuse the charity’s IRS tax-exempt status to circumvent the ban on raising soft money. After the charity’s plan drew unfavorable attention from the House Ethics Committee, the charity backed away from its convention plans.  Link
    Source: “Charity Tied to DeLay Is Questioned; Group Asks Lawmakers To Demand Ethics Probe,” Washington Post, March 24, 2004 


  • Cruise Ship in N.Y.C. – DeLay proposed anchoring the 2,224-passenger Norwegian Dawn cruise ship in the Hudson to accommodate Republicans during the Republican National Convention as an exclusive hotel for lawmakers, lobbyists and special guests.  This plan was  criticized for providing an environment of special access for large contributors to elected officials. The idea was scrapped after unfavorable publicity.
    Source: “They’ll Take Manhattan: Republicans Drop Ship Idea,” The New York Times, December 3, 2003


  • Legal Defense Fund Contributions – After Public Citizen complained about possible ethics violations, DeLay was forced to return contributions to his legal defense fund from registered lobbyists because House ethics rules explicitly prohibit such contributions.  Link
    Source: “Gifts Broke Rules, DeLay Trustee Says,” The New York Times, December 8, 2004

 

The Latest Ethics Allegations Against Tom DeLay

 

  • A trip DeLay took in 1997 to Moscow may have been underwritten by business interests lobbying on behalf of the Russian government. The $57,238 cost of the trip was reportedly transferred from a mysterious company registered in the Bahamas, Chelsea Commercial Enterprises Ltd., to the nonprofit group, the National Center for Public Policy Research, which officially paid for the trip. On the trip, DeLay met with two registered lobbyists for Chelsea, including Jack Abramoff.
    Source: “A 3rd DeLay Trip Under Scrutiny; 1997 Russia Visit Reportedly Backed by Business Interests,” Washington Post, April 6, 2005.


  • DeLay's political action and campaign committees have paid his wife and daughter more than $500,000 since 2001. According to disclosure forms, the payments were for “fund-raising fees,” “campaign management” or “payroll.”
    Source: “Political Groups Paid Two Relatives of House Leader,” Washington Post, April 6, 2005.


  • Accepting illegal gifts of foreign travel, lodging and an exclusive golf outing from lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Although DeLay listed the nonprofit National Center for Public Policy Research as the sponsor of a $70,000 trip,  Abramoff reportedly had actually solicited checks from two of his clients, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and eLottery Inc., to pay for the trip through the nonprofit group. Two months after the trip, DeLay helped kill legislation opposed by the tribe and the company.
    Source: “Probe of Abramoff and Nonprofits’ Money Opens; Senate Finance Committee Seeks Records on Trips by Reps. DeLay and Ney, Donations to Indian Tribes,” The Washington Post, March 17, 2005


  • Taking trip to South Korea with other House Members and staff funded by Korea-U.S. Exchange Council, a business-financed group created with the help of a lobbying firm headed by DeLay’s former chief of staff. The Council is a registered foreign agent, and House rules state: “a Member, officer or employee may not accept travel expenses from a registered lobbyist or agent of a foreign principal.” 
    Source: “S. Korean Group Sponsored DeLay Trip; Visits May Have Broken House Rules,” The Washington Post, March 10, 2005

 

Protecting Delay: Changing Ethics Rules

 

  • Changed House ethics rules to let a complaint die if the ethics committee cannot decide whether it should be investigated within 45 days.  Link
    Source: “After Retreat, G.O.P. Changes House Ethics Rule,” The New York Times, January 5, 2005  


  • Changed House ethics rules to allow either party to block an ethics investigation by voting along party lines, thus denying a majority vote to allow it to proceed.
    Source: “After Retreat, G.O.P. Changes House Ethics Rule,” The New York Times, January 5, 2005


  • Changed House ethics rules to allow several members involved in a single ethics investigation to hire the same attorney. House rules had prohibited this practice in order to ensure one attorney could not gain access to too much information and potentially coordinate testimony.

  • The House Republican Conference changed its internal rules, rescinding a provision that required a member to step down from a leadership post if indicted.  The rule change was itself later rescinded after adverse publicity. Link
    Source: “GOP Pushes Rule Change To Protect DeLay’s Post,” The Washington Post, November 17, 2004 


  • Unsuccessful attempts were made to change House ethics rules to eliminate the broad rule that Members should conduct themselves in a manner that “reflects creditably” on the House.  This had been the basis for sanctions by the ethics committee and the House. Link
    Source: “House to Consider Relaxing Its Rules; GOP Leaders Seek Ethics Changes,” The Washington Post, December 31, 2004  

 

Protecting Delay: Ethics Committee Purge

 

  • Speaker Dennis Hastert removed Rep. Joel Hefley (D-CO) as chairman of the Ethics Committee that  oversaw three admonishments of DeLay in 2004. Prior to his removal, Hefley said of Republican colleagues he would not name: “They said I was hurting my career here. The implication is that some form of retribution would be taken.” Hefley also told a newspaper after the third DeLay admonishment: “I’ve been attacked; I’ve been threatened.”   Link
    Sources: “Ethics Panel’s Chair Is the Toughest Seat in the House,” The Washington Post, January 7, 2005; “Hefley: ‘I was threatened’,” The Hill, October 13, 2004 


  • Replaced the two members of the Ethics Committee, Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-MO) and Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH), who both admonished DeLay and voted against the Republican Conference rule changes to protect DeLay, with two Republican loyalists, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Tom Cole (R-OK). Smith and Cole contributed $10,000 and $5,000, respectively, to DeLay’s legal defense fund.  Smith also co-hosted a fundraiser with DeLay for Texans’ for a Republican Majority, which is now the subject of a grand jury instigation. Link
    Source: “Ethics Purge,” The Washington Post, February 5, 2005  


  • Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), who replaced Hefley as Ethics Committee chairman, fired several longtime committee staffers,  including John Vargo, the staff director and chief counsel, and Paul Lewis, a counsel. Hastings’ office defended his decision to replace Vargo and Lewis as standard practice for a new chairman, although both Vargo and Lewis had been working on the committee since before Hefley was its chairman.  Link
    Source: “Critics Slam Hastings’ Dismissal of Ethics Staff,” Roll Call, February 17, 2005  

 

Protecting Delay: Intimidate Accusers

 

  • After being scolded twice by the Ethics Committee in one week, DeLay responded through his lawyer with a letter to the chairman of the House Rules Committee alleging Rep.  Bell’s complaint was filed in order to “raise funds for non-member groups,” specifically Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). The letter stated “Bell and CREW lodged libelous and specious allegations against Majority Leader DeLay ... apparently with blatant disregard to the veracity of their statements.” In response, Ethics Committee Chairman Helfey said: “If DeLay and his lawyer feel he was treated unfairly, they can come back and we can open it all back up again.” Link 
    Source: “DeLay attacks accuser after ethics panel rebuke,” The Washington Times, October 9, 2004  


  • Even though the Ethics Committee admonished DeLay for two of the allegations raised in a complaint filed by Rep. Chris Bell (R-TX)  (and is withholding a ruling on a third allegation  pending the outcome of prosecutions in Texas),  the Ethics Committee in November 2004 warned  Bell  against using  “excessive or inflammatory language or exaggerated charges” and threatened disciplinary action against Members who filed complaints the committee considered excessive or inflammatory.  This action serves to discourage the already rare Member-filed complaint to the ethics committee. Link 
    Source: “Foe of DeLay Rebuked By House Ethics Panel,” The New York Times, November 20, 2004 


  • Retaliation against Ronnie Earle, the Texas district attorney who is investigating possible violations by DeLay.  Specifically, legislation introduced in the GOP-dominated Texas  legislature to halt Earle’s high-profile grand jury probe.  The legislation would have taken authority over campaign finance violations from the district attorney and given it to a special office in the Texas Ethics Commission that would have the power to stop district attorneys from prosecuting election code violations. Link
    Source: “Texas Ethics Bill Could Allow Appointees to Bar Prosecutions,” The Washington Post, February 20, 2005  

 

Fixing the Problem?

 

  • Mollohan Resolution:  Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV), the ranking member of the House Ethics Committee, introduced a resolution (H Res. 131) March 1, 2005 that would undo the controversial changes made to the House ethics rules at the beginning of the 109th Congress.  The resolution would repeal the new rule allowing either party to block an investigation by voting along party lines; repeal the new rule allowing a case to die if the committee takes no action within 45 days; repeal the new “collusion” rule, allowing one lawyer to represent more than on individual involved in an ethics case.  The resolution has 206 co-sponsors, including Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) and former Ethics Committee Chairman Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO).  It has been referred to the House Rules Committee and a subcommittee, ironically, also chaired by the new ethics committee chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), who can block the resolution from moving.  Mollohan has threatened a discharge petition if the resolution is not brought to the House floor.   Link
    Source: “Mollohan Offers Resolution To Reverse Ethics Changes,” National Journal’s CongressDaily, March 02, 2005 


  • Committee Organization Stalls: Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), ranking member of the Ethics Committee and his Democratic colleagues on the panel refused to allow the committee to operate under the new rules adopted at the beginning of the session.  They blocked the committee from organizing or operating in the new Congress until the new rules changes are repealed.  Link
    Source: “Ethics Panel Faces Organizational Fight,” Roll Call, March 10, 2005


  • Pelosi “Privileged” Resolution: Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the House minority leader, introduced a “privileged” resolution (H. Res. 153) March 15, 2005, that would have established a bipartisan task force to recommend changes to House ethics rules.  The House voted to table (kill) the motion, 223-194, along party lines, except that Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO) voted against tabling.  (To read the resolution and House debate on it,  click here.  For a breakdown of how House members voted,  click here.)
    Source: “Hefley joins Dems on ethics,” The Hill, March 16, 2005


  • Slaughter Request of the House Rules Committee:  In a March 17, 2005 letter, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY),  ranking member of the House Rules Committee, asked Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-CA) to hold hearings on the House ethics process and move the Mollohan resolution.  (link to  Slaughter news release)

  • Hastings Requests More Funding for Ethics Committee Despite Staff Cuts:  Ethics Committee chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA)  asked the House Administration Committee for an additional $1.7 million in its fiscal 2006 budget, 55 percent more than the $3.1 million it received this year.  Hastings claims the additional money would be used to add staff to increase the committee’s “investigative capability” and improve ethics education for Members and staff.  Ironically, this request comes a month after Hastings dismissed John Vargo, a member of the ethics committee staff since 1996, and Paul Lewis, a former Justice Department lawyer who joined the committee staff in 1997. Currently, the Ethics Committee can not conduct any business  until the face-off over accepting the controversial new ethics rules forced through the Houseis resolved.
    Source: “Hastings Seeks $1.7M Increase For Revamped Ethics Panel,” National Journal’s CongressDaily, March 17, 2005