Demand for an Outside Counsel to Investigate Tom DeLay

As you know we have been closely watching the developments concerning a wide-ranging ethics complaint that Rep. Chris Bell (D-TX) filed against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) on June 15. The 187-page complaint accuses Rep. DeLay of engaging in extortion, money laundering, and other abuses of power.

Today (Sept. 20) is the deadline for the Ethics Committee to decide how to address the complaint. As of this writing, we have heard nothing from the panel. Press reports about what the committee may decide are conflicting. And there has been no indication that the Ethics Committee has the political courage to do what is truly needed — call for an outside counsel to investigate.

Tom Delay is arguably the most powerful member of the House. The precedent is for the Ethics Committee to bring in an outside counsel when a complaint is filed against a congressional leader whose stature makes it difficult for colleagues to render judgment. Outside counsels were appointed to investigate ethics complaints against former House Speakers Jim Wright (D-TX) and Newt Gingrich (R-GA). Even Rep. DeLay’s home state newspaper, The Dallas Morning News, along with The Boston Globe, and others have called for an outside counsel, noting that Rep. DeLay has given money to the campaigns of four of the five Republicans who serve on the panel, which is composed of five Democrats and five Republicans.

Whether the Ethics Committee tries to drop the complaint, or whether the panel is still trying to resolve the issue, is impossible to tell, since this committee works in secret. And that smacks of all that is wrong about the House ethics rules: no transparency, no accountability, and inherent conflicts of interest when members of Congress must judge their peers, especially their leaders. It points to the dire need for reform, including an outside counsel in cases involving congressional leaders.

Update (9/21): On Monday, Ethics Committee Chairman Joel Hefley (R-CO) and ranking member Alan Mollohan (D-WV) issued a statement saying they have spent the last 90 days investigating the DeLay complaint – after twice extending their own deadline – and plan “in the near future” to present their findings to the full 10-member committee, along with “recommendations for committee action.” Since the Ethics Committee is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, it is likely the panel would deadlock on what to do, a situation that could result in the complaint being dropped or floating indefinitely in limbo.

We would like to believe that Mr. Hefley and Mr. Mollohan have worked tirelessly to look into Mr. Bell’s complaint. But because the Ethics Committee works in secret, and is accountable to no one, we do not know. All we see is that the House ethics system appears badly broken and in need of reform.

We need your help to ensure that this complaint against Rep. DeLay is properly and thoroughly investigated. House leaders need to hear from us today. Ask them to urge the Ethics Committee to appoint an independent counsel to investigate the complaints against Rep. DeLay.

Dennis Hastert (R-IL)

Speaker of the House


Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

House Minority Leader


Joel Hefley (R-CO)

Chairman, House Ethics Committee


Alan Mollohan (D-WV)

Ranking Member, House Ethics Committee


We appreciate your passion for holding our public officials accountable to the highest ethical standards. Your actions do make a difference. Thank you again for your commitment to Common Cause.


Common Cause