House Ethics Committee Must Move In Timely Manner To Evaluate Complaint Against Rep. DeLay

Common Cause urges the House Ethics Committee to thoroughly evaluate the complaint filed Tuesday by Rep. Chris Bell (D-TX) against Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) in a timely manner.

“We commend Representative Bell for being the first Member of the House to file an ethics complaint in seven years,” said Common Cause President Chellie Pingree. “Now the Ethics Committee must take seriously its responsibility to expeditiously review the complaint and let the public know what it has decided and how it arrived at that decision.”

Under House rules, the panel has between five and 14 days to determine whether it will investigate the complaint, and can ask for additional time to consider the case.

Rep. Bell, a one-term lawmaker who lost a primary election in March, filed the 187-page complaint Tuesday, focusing on Rep. DeLay’s relationship with Westar Energy Inc., and a political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee. Rep. Bell also alleges that Rep. DeLay inappropriately used the Federal Aviation Administration to help locate a private plane thought to be carrying Texas state legislators who were preventing a quorum that Republicans needed to pass a 2003 redistricting plan.

Rep. Bell’s was the first ethics complaint filed in the House since 1997, when the House changed its rules to prohibit outside groups from filing complaints against lawmakers. An unwritten “truce” between the two political parties followed.

Rep. Bell’s decision to file a complaint was a courageous one, as evidenced by the response from an ally of Rep. DeLay, who vowed to The Washington Post that, Republicans “are going to respond in kind.” Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) said he planned to retaliate against Rep. Bell by filing a complaint against a Democrat he declined to name. “You kill my dog, I’ll kill your cat,” Rep. Doolittle told The Post.

“It’s that kind of mentality that undermines the public’s faith in the institution of Congress,” Pingree said. “We hope that Representative Doolittle reconsiders his promise that threatens to even further undermine the ethics system in the House.”

Common Cause has been working in recent months with a coalition of 10 national watchdog organizations to reform House ethics procedures.

Earlier this year, Common Cause sought unsuccessfully for a House Member to file an ethics complaint against Rep. DeLay after he formed a new children’s charity, “Celebrations for Children,” to fund his political activities at the GOP convention in New York this summer. Despite three letters sent to every House Member, no one would agree to file a complaint, or even to publicly urge the Ethics Committee to investigate. Common Cause had also unsuccessfully urged the Ethics Committee to formally rule on DeLay’s charity fundraising plans. Rep. DeLay announced in May that he was canceling those plans.

Update (6/16): Charles Babington from the Post discussed these complaints filed against Delay on NPR. Click here to read the NPR transcript of Babington’s NPR interview.