Government Accountability

Key Players in the House Ethics Mess

The Ethics Committee


The Ethics Committee, officially the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, is comprised of five Democrats and five Republicans and is the only House committee where members are evenly divided along party lines.  House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) recently appointed three new Republican Members to the panel, Reps. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Tom Cole (R-OK) and Melissa Hart (R-PA).  They replace former Chairman Joel Hefley (R-CO) and Reps. Kenny Hulshof (R-MO), and Steven LaTourette (R-OH), all of whom voted along with their Democratic colleagues on the committee to admonish House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) three times last year.  Additional Republican members of the Ethics Committee include Rep. Doc Hastings (WA), the new chairman, and Judy Biggert (IL).  Democratic Members include Alan Mollohan (WV), the senior ranking member, along with Stephanie Tubbs Jones (OH), Gene Green (TX), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA), and Michael Doyle (PA).  Rep. Mollohan has refused to allow the committee to officially organize in the 109th Congress unless a vote is allowed on his resolution to rescind the ethics rules changes proposed by the Republican House leadership that gutted the ethics process passed in January.  As of March 25, the resolution had 206 cosponsors.

 

  • Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Washington:   Hastings is the newly appointed chairman of the Ethics Committee and is viewed by many as a party loyalist.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Hastings has received $5,930 in campaign contributions from DeLay's political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC).  Mollohan's resolution is awaiting action in the House Subcommittee on Rules and Organization of the House; the committee chair is Doc Hastings.  Hastings has not said whether he will recuse himself in the matter.

  • Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas:   Many believe Smith was appointed because the leadership felt he would be more reliable in protecting party interests than the Republican members who voted to admonish Delay last year.  Smith's appointment has also drawn criticism because he donated $10,000 to DeLay's legal defense fund.  He is also under scrutiny because he appeared as a special guest and speaker at a 2002 fundraiser for Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), a political action committee associated with DeLay that is under investigation by a Texas grand jury.  Last year the Ethics Committee deferred - but did not dismiss - a complaint against DeLay related to TRMPAC pending the results of the Texas investigation.

  • Rep. Melissa Hart R-Pennsylvania:   Melissa Hart was among those who voted for the rule change that would have allowed DeLay to retain his position as majority leader should he be indicted by a Texas grand jury.  Hart is perceived to be a party loyalist and received $15,000 from ARMPAC, DeLay's national political committee.

  • Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma:   Cole received $15,000 from ARMPAC and also donated $5,000 to DeLay's legal defense fund, according to an analysis of disclosure records by Public Citizen.  Although he has publicly denied that he would allow party politics to interfere with his duties on the Ethics Committee, Cole, like Smith and Hart, is seen by many as a party loyalist who can be counted on to put the Republican party's interests first.


Key Players in the Investigations Involving DeLay and His Associates


TRMPAC and ARMPAC are political action committees associated with DeLay and are the focus of a grand jury investigation in Texas involving illegal corporate campaign contributions.  It is illegal in Texas to use corporate money to influence the outcome of elections.  Three leaders of TRMPAC have been indicted by a grand jury for money laundering and accepting illegal campaign contributions to engineer a Republican takeover of the Texas House of Representatives.  Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle instigated the investigation, which is still underway.  In a related civil suit filed by five Democrats who lost their elections in 2002, documents revealed DeLay's national political action committee ARMPAC coordinated with TRMPAC to deliver contributions to Texas House candidates.

 

  • Jim Ellis, executive director of ARMPAC:  Ellis is a longtime DeLay associate and by his own testimony founded TRMPAC at DeLay's direction.  Ellis was indicted by Earle's office for money laundering.  Prior to the 2002 elections, TRMPAC donated $190,000 in corporate money to the Republican National Committee (RNC) because Texas law limits the use of corporate money in elections.  Soon after, the RNC sent $190,000 that could legally be used in Texas to Jim Ellis, with instructions to distribute the money to seven Republican House candidates.  If the case ever gets to court, jurors will be told that the check was left blank for Ellis to fill in, which doesn't look good.  Prosecutors will allege a classic soft-money-in/hard-money-out deal, though TRMPAC attorneys contend that the $190,000 up and $190,000 back was a coincidence.

  • John Colyandro, former executive director of TRMPAC: Colyandro, a well known Republican operative and veteran of Karl Rove's direct-mail firm was indicted for money laundering.

  • Warren RoBold, fundraiser:   RoBold was indicted on charges of violating Texas election law prohibiting corporate money from influencing state elections.  RoBold raised more money for TRMPAC than anyone else during the 2002 election cycle.  At the same time, ARMPAC paid him $233,000 for his fund raising services the same year.

  • Bill Ceverha, treasurer of TRMPAC:  Ceverha, a long time friend and DeLay associate was indicted for illegally raising and spending corporate money to help Republicans take over the Legislature in 2002, then failing to report the money.  The two were roommates when they served together in the Texas Legislature in "Macho Manor," a legendary 1980s legislator's house in the state capitol.  New documents filed as evidence in the pending civil suit against TRMPAC revealed copies of ARMPAC checks and letters on TRMPAC's stationery that were delivered together to 15 House candidates.  Ceverha, who also served on Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick's transition team in 2002, was a key figure in the Texas redistricting effort.

  • Tom Craddick, speaker of the House:   Lawyers in the civil lawsuit filed by the five Democratic candidates argue that TRMPAC served as an arm of Tom Craddick's campaign for state speaker and passed along potentially illegal funds to 23 Republican House candidates to influence the outcome of the 2002 elections.  Craddick is under investigation for allegedly distributing illegal corporate contributions raised by TRMPAC to other Republican House candidates to enhance his efforts to become speaker.

  • Danielle Ferro, TRMPAC Consultant:   Ferro, DeLay's daughter, was subpoenaed in the TRMPAC investigation to provide any documents pertaining to her involvement with the group.  She is known to have been paid by TRMPAC to organize events.

  • Ronnie Earle, Travis County district attorney:   Earle is conducting investigations related to TRMPAC that have so far resulted in the indictment of three TRMPAC associates and several corporations for illegally funneling corporate donations to Texas state level candidates.  DeLay has accused Earle of conducting a partisan vendetta.  But in Earle's 28 years of service, he has prosecuted 15 cases involving elected officials, and 12 of the cases involved Democrats. 

 

Investigation of DeLay Associates Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon

 

  • Jack Abramoff, Republican lobbyist:  Abramoff, a DeLay associate, travel companion, and former power player in Republican circles, is being investigated by Congress, the FBI and a task force of five federal agencies for allegedly defrauding Indian tribes of as much as $82 million.  The FBI has more than three-dozen agents working on the case.  One area under review is how tribal money funneled through Abramoff may have illegally benefited DeLay's political operations.  It was revealed as part of the investigation that DeLay may have violated House ethics rules by taking a 2000 junket to Scotland's fabled St. Andrews golf course that appears to have been paid for with monies received from gambling interests funneled through an organization called the National Center for Public Policy Research.  Abramoff served on the group's board until he resigned last October. While the Center acknowledges it paid for DeLay's travel, Abramoff later billed his law firm Greenburg Taurig for the travel expenses, a clear violation of House rules that forbid a Member to accept gifts or travel from a registered lobbyist.

  • Michael Scanlon: Jack Abramoff's partner and former DeLay press secretary and aide.

 

2001 Trip to South Korea


DeLay also faces questions about a 2001 trip to South Korea paid for by the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council, a registered foreign agent. Justice Department documents show that the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council, a business-financed entity, was created with help from a lobbying firm headed by DeLay's former chief of staff, Ed Buckham.

 

  • Ed Buckham, former DeLay chief of staff:  DeLay and Buckham worked closely together for years.  Delay relied on his advice, they organized voluntary prayer sessions for members and staff, and DeLay considered Buckham his pastor.   Buckham's Alexander Strategy Group also served as the Korean group's Washington representative, and their current offices share the same address.  In addition, Buckham accompanied DeLay on a trip to the Mariana Islands that was organized by  Abramoff.  Abramoff arranged for DeLay to meet with clients based there who had business pending in the House. Buckham was also instrumental in working with DeLay to craft the controversial Medicare prescription drug plan.  The ethics committee admonished DeLay last year for appearing to extort votes to pass the measure on the House floor.