House GOP conference vote to protect DeLay defies the most basic ethical guidelines to which elected officials should adhere

Common Cause Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Press Release

Contact:Mary Boyle, Common Cause, 202-736-5770

Melanie Sloan, CREW, 202-588-5565

Today’s vote by the House Republican conference to change its party rules is arrogant, hypocritical and in defiance of the most basic ethical guidelines to which elected officials should adhere. The change allows for the possibility that members of Congress who are indicted by state grand juries retain their leadership posts – thus protecting House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), who may well be indicted as part of a Texas investigation.

It is ironic that 11 years ago, House Republicans adopted the same rule scrapped today in an effort to draw attention to Democrats’ ethical problems. In fact, Rep. DeLay himself was a key player in calling for those tougher ethics standards.

The move is all the more outrageous when considered in light of the track record of the leader that the amendment is designed to protect.

Rep. DeLay faced back-to-back admonishments last month from the GOP-led, bipartisan House Ethics Committee. In response to the ethics complaint filed by Rep. Chris Bell (D-TX), the committee admonished Rep. DeLay for conduct suggesting political donations would influence legislative action and for asking federal aviation officials to track an airplane carrying Texas Democratic state legislators during last year’s contentious redistricting battle. The panel deferred action on the third count of Rep. Bell’s complaint which alleged that Rep. DeLay was involved in illegal fundraising for candidates for the Texas State Legislature. The substance of this allegation is what is under investigation from the Texas grand jury.

But there is more.

Rep. DeLay was also scolded a third time this fall for offering to endorse the House candidacy of the son of Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) if Smith voted for a Medicare drug bill during the November 2003 vote on the bill. And in 1999, the panel slapped Rep. DeLay’s wrist for threatening to retaliate against trade associations who hired Democratic lobbyists.

As if all of this isn’t enough, Ethics Committee Chairman Joel Hefley (R-CO), said shortly after the committee admonished DeLay that GOP lawmakers had “threatened” him in the wake of his panel’s actions.

Rep. DeLay and his supporters try to dismiss the ethics complaints as politically inspired and frivolous. But Rep. Hefley and four other Republicans on the House Ethics Committee found them serious enough to warrant action. Even Judicial Watch, a conservative-leaning organization, has found fault with these ethical lapses and called for Rep. DeLay to step down as majority leader.

Each party has the right to set its own governing rules. But this change to reward Rep. DeLay for his tactics in using redistricting to create five new House seats for Republicans does nothing for the public good. In fact, it tells the public that Republicans’ attitude, when it comes to ethics, is “Do as I say, not as I do.” And it only serves to produce greater cynicism among citizens who see politicians concerned only with protecting their own.

We condemn this shameless move by House Republicans and renew our call for Rep. Delay to step down as House Majority. His ethical lapses make him unfit to lead his party in Congress.