House Majority Leader Tom DeLay Should Resign Leadership Post Over Ethical Lapses

Oct. 7, 2004

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay Should Resign Leadership Post Over Ethical Lapses

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

Public Citizen today calls upon Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) to resign his position as House Majority Leader following his third admonishment by the House ethics committee for failing to conduct official business in a forthright and ethical manner – two of these admonishments coming in the past week alone. Several other ethics complaints against DeLay are still pending before the House ethics committee, the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Election Commission and an Austin, Texas, grand jury.

While the admonishments by the ethics committee of the House’s second-ranking Republican have been worded sternly – chastising DeLay for offering rewards to a colleague in exchange for a vote on the Medicare prescription drug bill, using his position to divert Federal Aviation Administration resources from monitoring safety in the skies to tracking Democratic state legislators who left Texas to prevent a quorum over a redistricting bill, and appearing to accept campaign contributions from Westar Energy Corp. in exchange for a legislative favor – the committee shied away from conducting a formal investigation that could lead to harsher penalties. The ethics committee did note that other agencies, particularly the Texas grand jury, may yet weigh in on additional ethics charges against DeLay.

Public Citizen more than 15 months ago filed civil and criminal complaints against DeLay with both the House ethics committee and the DOJ regarding the Westar scandal. The DOJ complaint is still pending. In the complaints, internal e-mails among Westar executives suggested that DeLay and other House Republicans wanted a series of campaign contributions from the executives and the company itself so they could win “a seat at the table” to secure legislation that Westar favored. Central to this scheme was having Westar contribute in 2002 $25,000 to TRMPAC, DeLay’s leadership political action committee, that he used to fund candidates for Texas state legislative offices. Westar executives gave an additional $2,400 directly to DeLay’s campaign and contributed thousands of dollars more to, as e-mails document, “a group of candidates associated with Tom DeLay.” The contributions were made and the favored legislation – an exemption for Kansas-based Westar from a regulation – was delivered in the energy bill by the legislators in conference committee with the Senate. The special interest provision was later removed after the company became the focus of a grand jury investigation into federal securities violations.   The company’s e-mails described why a Kansas company would give money to a Texas member of the House: “DeLay is the House Majority Leader. His agreement is necessary before the House Conferees can push the language we have in place in the House bill.”

DeLay does not have the integrity to lead the House of Representatives. He has racked up an extraordinary number of admonishments for unethical behavior and is in the middle of ongoing civil and criminal investigations for corruption. Lately it seems that wherever there is a scandal involving money in politics, the trail leads to Tom DeLay.

Congress has been the subject of story after story about how it is too heavily influenced by those who donate to members’ campaigns. Lawmakers must assure the American public that legislation cannot be bought by wealthy special interests. DeLay’s reputation and behavior belie an image of honesty and integrity.

Congress and the Republican Party should end the taint of corruption that comes with having Tom DeLay as their leader, and Mr. DeLay should recognize the damage he has wrought to the institution and immediately resign his leadership post. If he does not respect the integrity of the House to step down on his own, his colleagues should force him to do so.

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