Feb. 2, 2005

Appointments of Rep. Doc Hastings and Other DeLay Allies to House Ethics Committee Deals Final Blow to Ethics in Congress

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today’s appointment by House Republican leaders of Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) as chairman of the House ethics committee, along with two allies of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay as members of the ethics committee, is the knockout blow to ethics enforcement in Congress. Hastings replaces former chairman Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), who was removed because he led a unanimous ethics committee in admonishing DeLay for three separate ethics violations.

Hastings has a reputation in the House as a loyal servant to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). As a veteran member of the ethics committee, Hastings deserves praise for originally voting to admonish DeLay for ethics violations. But that vote was cast under the leadership of Hefley, who has since been dumped because he took the job of ethics enforcement seriously.

Now Hastings is in charge, and there is little in his background to suggest he will exercise independence from party politics or House Republican leaders.

“Hastings’ primary goal is to become chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. “You don’t get there by being tough on the people and party that control such a prestigious appointment.”

House Republicans have replaced four of the five members of the ethics committee. In addition to Hastings, two other new appointments are Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.). Smith has a long-standing reputation as one of DeLay’s closest allies, and both Smith and Cole have made substantial contributions to DeLay’s legal defense fund, $10,000 and $5,000 respectively.

Last month, House Republicans voted to change ethics procedures to require a majority vote of the ethics committee, which is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, just to initiate an investigation into possible ethics abuses.

“With the appointments of DeLay allies Smith and Cole, under the timid leadership of Hastings, there will be very little action coming out of the ethics committee,” said Craig Holman, legislative representative for Public Citizen. “House Republican leaders can rest assured they are now safe from ethics enforcement.”

Hastings has received $5,930 in campaign contributions from DeLay’s leadership PAC, Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC), according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Under Hefley, the House ethics committee began to make progress toward holding members of Congress accountable for unethical behavior. Public Citizen is alarmed that his replacement by Hastings, and the appointments of Smith and Cole to the committee, are intended to put a stop to that progress and relegate the House ethics committee to the trash bin.

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