March 25, 2005
Is DeLay Headed the Way of Gingrich?

By Debra Saunders

When you read about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's expensive junkets -- bankrolled by a lobby-enriched nonprofit and a registered foreign agent -- you wonder why DeLay didn't learn the lessons to be gleaned from the very big fall of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The Newter resigned his speakership in 1998 after he became more of a liability than an asset for the House GOP. Alas, it is clear DeLay did learn a lesson from Gingrich's downfall, but the wrong lesson: If you're going to travel like royalty while serving as a GOP biggie, rig the ethics committee.

Three times last year, the House ethics committee admonished DeLay.

Under Chairman Joel Hefley, the committee chastised DeLay for offering a political favor to a lawmaker in exchange for his support on the Medicare prescription drug bill, for asking federal aviation workers to track a plane during a partisan squabble and for appearing at a 2002 energy-company fund-raiser that "at a minimum, created the appearance that donors were being provided with special access" to DeLay concerning pending energy legislation.

To add to his woes, a Texas grand jury indicted three of his associates for illegal fund-raising and there is speculation that DeLay is under investigation, as well.

So DeLay -- known inside the Beltway as "The Hammer" -- has been working to fix things so that the ethics committee won't give him trouble this year.

In cahoots with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the GOP leadership ousted Hefley and replaced him with Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash. Then, GOP heavies purged two Republican members and replaced them with two toadies, both of whom, The Washington Post reported, "contributed generously" to DeLay's much-needed legal-defense fund.

Oh, and the House changed the rules.

In January, GOP leaders pushed through a new rule: After 45 days, the ethics committee would throw out a complaint, even without an investigation, unless the GOP chairman and ranking Democrat agree to let it proceed. Another new rule allows members to be represented by the same attorney.

The now-deposed Hefley complained that this would make it easier for members to coordinate their stories.

In a statement, Hefley complained that these new rules threaten to undermine the committee, "not to mention the integrity of the House." Or as they say, a fish rots from the head down.

Gingrich began to falter when he decided he was so big that he could do no wrong. He traveled to London to make a speech for Atlantic Richfield -- allowing the company to spend some $40,000 flying Gingrich and his wife (first class) and two aides (coach) to London and plunking down $12,000 for the Gingrich hotel tab. Then there was the Newter's stint as an academic lecturer -- for which he raised $300,000 to $450,000 per semester -- for his inappropriately named course "Renewing American Civilization." Now it appears DeLay has adopted The Gingrich Way. In 2001, he went to South Korea on a three-day trip. His transportation, The Washington Post reported, cost $13,000, and $330 went toward his lodging. Ditto Mrs. DeLay.

Three Democrats and a Republican took a similar trip in 2003.

A United Kingdom trip in 2000 cost $70,000 for DeLay and his entourage.

The Post followed the money and found that the nonprofit National Center for Public Policy Research received donations of $25,000 each from two gambling interests. DeLay voted against an anti-gambling bill those interests didn't like, even though DeLay says he is anti-gambling.

House rules prohibit a member from traveling on the dime of a lobbyist or a foreign agent. Although there may be no problem if DeLay -- and the other members -- did not know the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council was a registered foreign agent, or if DeLay was unaware (as he says he was) of any lobbyist funding for the U.K. trip. (The National Center says there was no nexus between the gambling money and the U.K. trip.)

DeLay complains about "the partisan politics of personal destruction." He, like Gingrich, doesn't see his role in his own self-destruction. It seems clear that DeLay thinks he is too big to care how his trips look to voters. The GOP leadership apparently feels that it can adulterate the ethics committee and its rules -- and get away with it.

Hefley and Rep. Chris Shays are two Republicans who support a measure to return to the old rules, while the ethics committee's five Democrats have said they won't participate in committee doings until the old rules are restored.

This renders the committee inactive.

When the House convenes in April, the ethics committee might as well have a sign out front that says, "Gone fishing."

Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate

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Debra J. Saunders
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