Fallout from a House ethics probe
Charges of vote trading and unethical fundraising against DeLay may curb his ability to raise money.
On Monday, a fundraiser to reelect House majority leader Tom DeLay was quietly rescheduled a few hours earlier than previously announced - a trifle in ordinary times.Skip to next paragraph
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But these are not ordinary times for the top GOP fundraiser, now facing daily questions on the only issue that does topple powerful leaders in the increasingly voterproof House of Representatives: ethics.
"History has shown that once top party leaders are tainted by ethics accusations, there is a downward spiral," says Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Last week, Mr. DeLay and two other House members received a rare public "admonishment" from the House ethics committee. He could face a full investigation on a more serious complaint - or dismissal of the complaint - as early as this week.
Meanwhile, three DeLay aides were recently indicted by a grand jury in Travis County, Texas. Two other DeLay associates face an ongoing probe by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee concerning some $66 million in fees from tribal casino clients.
"The committee has received hundreds of thousands of documents, and we are laying the groundwork for further investigation," says Paul Morehead, chief counsel for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Several more hearings could begin as early as a lame-duck session of Congress after November elections, he adds.
While DeLay has not been called as a witness nor cited in either investigation involving associates, the probes add to a cloud of ethical questions on the eve of an election.
And that's the point, says DeLay and his spokesmen: The charges and timing are politically motivated. "This is 40 days before the election, you do the math," said DeLay, commenting on the indictment last month of three aides by Travis County prosecutor Ronnie Earle, a Democrat. "It's like other partisan attacks leveled against me and dropped after the election."
But critics say the charges are already cutting into the majority leader's greatest strength: his capacity to raise money for GOP candidates.
Texas Democrats charged that the fundraiser was quietly rescheduled for 8 a.m. to avoid the possibility of street protests and a media stakeout. "With his top fundraising aides under felony indictment and facing criminal charges of bribery, extortion, fraud, [and] money laundering, and abuse of power himself, DeLay has been reduced to skulking around like a fugitive," says Texas Democratic Party Chairman Charles Soechting.
Last week, organizers of another fundraiser in Louisiana "abruptly canceled plans for a visit from DeLay," further evidence that Republicans are "distancing themselves," he adds.
Texas Democrats are still smarting from a 2003 GOP-engineered state redistricting, backed by DeLay, that shifted many Democrats into tougher electoral contests this fall. Political handicappers say that Democrats at the national level could lose as many as five House seats, due to Texas redistricting.