Conduct unbecoming

October 08, 2004

HOUSE MAJORITY Leader Tom DeLay is very good at what he does: raising money from corporate donors with financial interest in legislation and twisting arms to get it passed - all with the aim of boosting Republican ranks in Congress to advance his agenda. His two decades on Capitol Hill have been markedly successful.

But the tactics of the former exterminator from Sugarland, Texas, have so flouted even the relatively low ethical standards of Washington that Mr. DeLay is an embarrassment to both his party and the entire House of Representatives. For the good of both, he should resign his leadership post.

He has now been rebuked three times by the bipartisan House ethics committee, twice in the past week, a judgment by his peers against one of the most powerful members of Congress that speaks volumes about how far Mr. DeLay has veered out of bounds.

His nickname is The Hammer, and he's proud of it. The moniker applies to the bludgeoning style with which he gets his way, particularly with the lobbyist corps known loosely as K Street.

After lobbyists' contributions helped fuel the GOP takeover of the House in 1994, Mr. DeLay made the K Street crowd a de facto arm of the ruling regime - a relationship that extended to personnel decisions. Mr. DeLay drew his first rebuke from the ethics committee in 1999 when he tried to block a trade association from hiring a Democrat.

Cozy relationships between legislators and lobbyists are not unusual, but Mr. DeLay pushed the limits. Documents released by the ethics committee reveal that an energy company seeking legislative help paid $25,000 in exchange for schmoozing with Mr. DeLay at a golf tournament just before he helped write a final version of the energy bill. An "appearance of impropriety," the ethics panel said.

The committee expressed "serious concerns" about an even bolder DeLay move to enlist federal aviation officials "in a political undertaking" - the search for a private plane carrying Democratic legislators from Texas in an attempt to thwart a GOP redistricting plan.

Perhaps Mr. DeLay's most lasting achievement, the Texas redistricting could cost the Democrats a whopping eight seats in Congress this year - but three of his allies have been indicted by a Texas grand jury on charges of illegally channeling corporate contributions into state legislative races to put Republicans in charge of the congressional map.

Mr. DeLay was also admonished by the ethics panel last week for trying to convert a GOP opponent of the Medicare bill by promising to endorse his son for Congress.

The Texan has been twice passed up for House speaker because his GOP colleagues feared a political backlash from his conduct. Now if they let him stay on as majority leader, the consequences could be even worse.

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