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Four Watchdog Groups Demand Outside Counsel to Probe DeLay Scandals

Common Cause * Public Campaign * Public Citizen 

U.S. Public Interest Research Group

May 27, 2005

Four Watchdog Groups Demand Outside Counsel to Probe DeLay Scandals

Groups Send Letter to House Ethics Committee Leaders One Day After Texas Judge Finds Campaign Finance Violations in DeLay’s Political Action Committee

Washington, D.C. – Just one day after a Texas judge ruled that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), was guilty of failing to report corporate campaign contributions, four national watchdog groups sent a letter to House Ethics Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wa.) and Ranking Member Alan Mollahan (D-W. Va.), urging an independent, outside counsel investigate DeLay for alleged House ethics violations.

Common Cause, Public Campaign, Public Citizen and U.S. Public Interest Research Group asked Hastings and Mollohan to act quickly in the wake of Thursday’s ruling to credibly resolve allegations that DeLay took illegally financed foreign junkets and examine his ties to a lobbyist under federal criminal investigation. Because DeLay is one of the most powerful leaders in Congress, and his financial ties extend to most House Republicans, it is simply not credible that his colleagues can fairly judge him, the groups said. An independent, outside counsel is the only way to address the allegations and restore integrity to the House, they wrote.

Since numerous calls have been made previously for an outside counsel to investigate DeLay’s alleged wrongdoing, signers of the letter asked for a response within two weeks.

The groups said an outside counsel is needed for three compelling reasons:

  • Rep. DeLay’s position as majority leader vests him with considerable power and influence over the way Congress operates, and the resulting capacity to exact retribution against other Members.   The Majority Leader is directly involved in making committee assignments, raising campaign funds for colleagues and, critically, controlling the flow of legislation to the floor of the House.  Any sitting Member asked to pass judgment on the Majority Leader’s actions is being placed in an inherently untenable position.
  • The integrity of the House ethics process has come under a cloud. House ethics rules have been changed twice – and then changed back – specifically in response to earlier investigations of Rep. DeLay; nonpartisan committee staff who recommended past admonishments of Rep. DeLay have been fired; and members of the Ethics Committee who voted to admonish the Majority Leader have since been removed from the Committee, including Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO), the former chairman.
  • The independence of the House Ethics Committee has been cast into doubt.   Two of the Committee’s sitting members have contributed to Rep. DeLay’s legal defense fund.  And although the latter two members have promised to recuse themselves from any investigation of the Majority Leader, it is unclear whether they will ultimately be involved in deciding whether or how he should be sanctioned if he is found to have violated House rules or standards. The very fact that some committee members have already stipulated they cannot sit in fair and impartial judgment begs for an outside counsel.

A copy of the letter is available at http://www.publicampaign.org/ethics.