Texas watchdog groups want DeLay probe

AUSTIN, Texas – Three Texas campaign reform groups called July 15 for the U.S. House Ethics Committee to appoint an independent outside counsel to investigate charges that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas illegally funneled corporate campaign contributions to Republican candidates running for seats in the Texas House of Representatives.

“The House investigation of Rep. DeLay must be fair and above reproach,” said Fred Lewis, president of Campaigns for People, one of the groups. Texans for Public Justice and Public Citizen/Texas joined in issuing the call.

Many observers doubt that the Ethics Committee itself can conduct a fair and impartial hearing, because four of the five Republican committee members received campaign contributions from DeLay.

The Ethics Committee’s investigation resulted from a complaint filed by Democratic Rep. Chris Bell of Houston. In March, Bell lost a primary election to Al Green after Bell’s district was carved up as a result of congressional redistricting masterminded last year by DeLay.

Bell charges DeLay with offering favors to businesses in return for campaign contributions that he then distributed to Republican candidates running for Texas House seats. These contributions helped Republicans win key elections in 2002, which resulted in the Republican takeover of the state House.

The Republican takeover led to an unprecedented mid-decade redistricting of the state’s congressional districts that will likely result in five to seven new Republican members of Congress being sent to Washington next year, which will solidify DeLay’s control of the House.

Bell claims that DeLay laundered the contributions to hide the fact that businesses were making direct contributions to candidates, which is illegal in Texas. Bell also accuses DeLay of improperly using federal resources to track down the 51 state House Democrats who left Austin for Oklahoma in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to prevent Republicans from carrying out their redistricting plans.

According to Federal Election Commission records, Republicans on the Ethics Committee received about $28,000 over a seven-year period from DeLay’s political action committees. Rep. Kenny Hulshof of Missouri received $14,777, Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio received $10,553, Rep. Judy Biggert of Illinois received $1,764, and Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington received $1,410.

“DeLay’s underlings should not be entrusted to pass judgment on their leader,” said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice. “This investigation will only be credible if it is independent of DeLay’s widespread political influence.”

Groups in Washington are also calling for an independent counsel to investigate the ethics charges. Common Cause, Judicial Watch, Campaign Legal Resources, Democracy 21, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington have all joined the call.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.