Nov. 16, 2004
Public Citizen Launches “DeThrone DeLay – Clean Up the House” Web Page to Spotlight Majority Leader’s Ethical Lapses
Site Spotlights Unethical, Autocratic House Leader, Demands Changes
WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the House Republican majority votes today to keep Rep. Tom DeLay as majority leader, Public Citizen is launching a Web page to spotlight DeLay by highlighting his unethical, autocratic leadership and rallying the public to call for DeLay to step down as majority leader and demand changes in how the House is run.
“DeThrone DeLay – Clean Up the House” will serve as a clearinghouse for information related to the ethical challenges and undemocratic actions of DeLay. Posted on the page are histories of DeLay’s ethical lapses and his autocratic leadership; House ethics committee admonishments of DeLay; Public Citizen complaints against DeLay sent to the ethics committee, the IRS and the Department of Justice; Texas grand jury indictments against his associates; media investigative reports on DeLay; and editorials and other related information. Nicknamed “The Hammer” for his harsh tactics against opponents, DeLay has received more admonishments for violations of House ethics rules than any other sitting member of Congress – more than enough to make him unfit to serve in the leadership of the people’s legislative chamber.
“In an institution vulnerable to conflicts of interest and corruption from campaign contributions, Tom DeLay sadly ranks in a class all by himself,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “If the word ‘integrity’ is to have any meaning in Congress, multiple ethics violators like DeLay cannot be allowed to stay in leadership positions. It’s time for him to step down.”
Added Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch group, “Many of DeLay’s ethical lapses can be traced to his ruthless practice of punishing enemies and rewarding friends, whether it’s his so-called K Street Project to penalize lobby firms that hire Democrats, or his habit of rewarding major campaign contributors, like Westar Energy Corporation, with lucrative legislative favors.”
“DeThrone DeLay – Clean Up the House” is the beginning of an effort that Public Citizen will wage throughout the 109th Congress in an ongoing campaign to restore integrity and democracy to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Beyond simply presenting a comprehensive case for DeLay’s removal from leadership based on ethics violations, “DeThrone DeLay – Clean Up the House” also makes the case against DeLay’s highly autocratic style, one that has turned the “people’s House,” into one of the most secretive, undemocratic institutions in the federal government.
Under DeLay’s leadership open floor debate has been all but eliminated, as the minority party is regularly denied the ability to offer alternative legislative proposals and amendments to bills. Legislative negotiations are often held in secret, without participation of minority members, and controversial legislation – such as last year’s Medicare prescription drug bill – is voted on late at night with little advance notice or debate. The Medicare drug bill also featured another tactic in DeLay’s authoritarian arsenal, namely keeping a vote open longer than 15 minutes – a violation of House rules – in order to twist arms to get the necessary votes. In that case, the vote was kept open for nearly three hours as DeLay searched for members to pressure.
“In a country as evenly and passionately divided as the United States is today, it is fundamentally destructive to our democracy that the opposition party is all but shut out of the legislative process,” Claybrook said. “We can begin to heal as a country only when all perspectives and positions are taken into account, and that will not happen in the House until Rep. DeLay relinquishes his leadership position, or is forced to step down.”
To promote democracy in the House, “DeThrone DeLay – Clean Up the House” outlines proposals for more open and robust debate of legislation, including those contained in Rep. Martin Meehan’s (D-Mass.) “Democracy in Congress” legislation (H.R. 5101). The “Democracy in Congress” proposal would:
- Guarantee the right to the minority party to offer an alternative and two minority amendments to each bill brought to the House floor.
- Ensure that final legislation negotiated between the House and the Senate is openly debated through conference committees that hold regular meetings involving all conferees. Currently, the majority party leadership often re-drafts House-approved legislation in secret, with little or no discussion and debate among conference committee members of both parties.
- Prohibit artificially extending voting periods – now used to twist arms for votes – by imposing a 30-minute maximum period for final votes.
- Mandate that votes on bills are held during normal business hours instead of at 2 a.m.
- Require the full text of each bill to be available to Congress and the public at least three days before a vote.
- Require lobbyists to file electronic, quarterly financial reports into a searchable, sortable and publicly available Internet database, identifying the amount spent on lobbying per bill. The current system produces only sketchy information – often months after a bill has been voted on.
- Require members of Congress and senior officials in the executive branch to publicly disclose their meetings with lobbyists and the legislation discussed in those meetings.
Also today, Public Citizen condemned attempts by a handful of House Republican lawmakers to rescind a 1993 ethics rule that would require DeLay to temporarily resign his leadership post if he is indicted for potential criminal activity. The organization noted that in 1992, DeLay helped lead the floor fight for tougher ethics requirements, complaining about “the arrogance of power” and that the House had become poorly managed because of disregard for the rules. But today it is the House Republicans themselves who want to push these ethical violations in the corner.