Statement of Common Cause President Chellie Pingree on resignation of Rep. Tom DeLay

Common Cause finds interesting the timing of Rep. Tom DeLay’s decision to resign from Congress before his term expires at the end of the year.

Rep. DeLay has been indicted in Texas on charges of violating state campaign finance laws and is reportedly a target of the Justice Department’s investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. His former communications director and former deputy chief of staff have already plead guilty to corruption charges stemming from the Abramoff investigation.

It’s clear that Rep. DeLay saw the writing on the wall and expects to be implicated like his close aides. Rep. DeLay has characterized his legal troubles as politically motivated. But there is a mountain of evidence to suggest that DeLay was involved.

The liberal Democrats, as DeLay likes to say, did not defeat DeLay. His own possibly illegal behavior and a Republican-led criminal justice system did.

We think one reason for the timing of DeLay’s early exit from Congress could be that he intends to convert his $1.3 million campaign war chest to a legal defense fund. We call on him to give that money back to contributors.

Rep. DeLay leaves Washington DC in far worse shape than when he came to power more than a decade ago, pledging to clean up Washington.

Rep. DeLay’s legacy, the K Street Project, created an “anything goes,” pay-to-play culture in Congress, a climate in which ethics rules were ignored, those who tried to enforce them were punished and Congress was run by a tight pack of Republican Members and lobbyists who fundraised for them, all to the exclusion of the public.

Tom DeLay has left a huge mess in his wake that must be cleaned up. The most important result must be reform that begins to restore the public’s faith in the institution, starting with substantive change, such as independent ethics enforcement, breaking the nexis between money, lobbyists and Members of Congress and a new system of public financing for campaigns. That can not happen fast enough.