House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the Texas Republican who's standing under a building ethics cloud, likes to remind people he hasn't broken the law. He also says Democrats are out to get him.
The first is true, and the latter is probably, too, given that Mr. DeLay is arguably the most powerful man in Congress. But these defenses are beside the point.
The issue here is that the majority leader has been blithely waltzing in an ethical gray zone for years.
Last fall, the House Ethics Committee admonished DeLay three times: for appearing to favor a lobbyist, for an "improper" offer to another congressman for his vote, and for intervening with a federal agency to resolve a Texas political matter.
In 1997, while dismissing a complaint against DeLay regarding favoritism, the Ethics Committee did admonish him in relation to pressure for a higher campaign contribution. In 1999, he was rebuked (privately) for threatening a trade association with retaliation for hiring a Democrat.
The latest questions arise over funding for overseas trips allegedly paid for by lobbyists or foreign governments (a violation of House rules), and for more than $500,000 paid to DeLay's wife and daughter for campaign help since 2001 (an unusually large amount).
DeLay and his supporters can trot out the technical justifications: He didn't know about the funding, and he's not alone in hiring family for campaigns (more than a dozen lawmakers have). On the first point, he should have known, and on the second, intra-familial campaign money dealings aren't fitting for a top legislative leader.
Tom DeLay needs to leave the dance floor of questionable ethical behavior. If he doesn't, he may soon find he no longer has any partners.