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Tom DeLay's Amoral Code

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is hands-down one of the most corrupt politicians in the United States.
 
 
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Is it any surprise that the publication of Clinton's memoir My Life has revived the vitriolic bleating from those on the right who just can't seem to stop salivating over blue dresses and beret-wearing interns?

But if these self-appointed morality police were truly committed to upholding ethics and promoting values in government, they would begin challenging the House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who is hands-down one of the most corrupt politicians in the United States.

"The Hammer" – DeLay got that nickname because he runs the US House of Representatives with an iron fist – has allegedly bribed his GOP colleagues to win their votes for legislation that he desperately wanted to pass in the House. He has engaged in quid pro quos with corporations seeking legislative favors, and violated campaign finance laws in Texas during the 2002 state house election contests. Now, after a seven-year truce in the US House that discouraged members from filing ethics charges against one another, Rep. Chris Bell has gone to the ethics committee and filed a 187-page bombshell charging that DeLay engaged in extortion, money-laundering and other abuses of power.

Just this week, the ethics committee said that Bell had met the criteria for filing a complaint, and it will now spend at least the next forty-five days reviewing the charges that DeLay violated the house's ethics rules. Bell called the committee's decision "an important first step in the long journey to restore integrity and ethics to the people's House and to hold the House majority leader accountable for his actions." He received a riproaring (standing) ovation from the Democratic Caucus this week, winning a tacit endorsement from colleagues in his ongoing battle to hold DeLay accountable.

Bell, who lost his seat in Texas after DeLay rammed through his undemocratic statewide redistricting plan designed to help Republicans hold on to power there, has taken a bold stand. But kudos must also be given to the courageous folks at the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) in Washington who have been filing complaints against DeLay and shining a spotlight on his transgressions for many months now. CREW bills itself as a non-partisan watchdog group established to use litigation to help ordinary people against unscrupulous government officials. "Of course, we should have high standards for government leaders," CREW's mission statement notes, "but the greatest danger to democracy is posed not by the personal peccadilloes of government leaders, but rather, public policy unduly influenced by special interests."

Although it has adopted the model of legal advocacy developed by right-wing organizations like Judicial Watch and the Rutherford Institute, CREW has no political ideology, and in recent years it has stood alongside a bevy of brave souls, from columnist Paul Krugman to Democratic officials in the Texas legislature, who have opposed DeLay's brass-knuckles tactics and criticized the Majority Leader's illegal and undemocratic activities.

Thanks to Bell's complaint and CREW's persistence, Americans now have in their hands a vivid picture of corruption and ethical rule-breaking that belies the notion that this Administration and its Republican Congressional allies do anything more than simply pay lip service to upholding ethics and morality in the seats of federal power. For starters, the Democratic District Attorney in Travis County, Texas has convened a grand jury to investigate charges that "the Hammer" used his political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, to raise millions in corporate campaign contributions and then spent some of this money on polling, fundraising and get-out-the-vote activities in violation of Texas law, which says that corporate contributions can be used only for general administrative purposes.

DeLay is also charged in Bell's complaint with extracting campaign contributions from an electric utility in Kansas called Westar Energy. DeLay, it's alleged, agreed to insert provisions into an energy bill that would save Westar billions of dollars. One e-mail that has subsequently come to light reveals that Westar's executives thought that they were buying a "seat at the table" when they donated money to groups with links to the Majority Leader.

Then there's DeLay's role in corralling votes on behalf of the GOP's sham Medicare prescription drug legislation, a legislative low point that occurred in the long night of Republican arm-twisting last November. According to the Associated Press, Rep. Nick Smith, a Republican from Michigan, said that unnamed House Republican leaders threatened to work against Smith's son (who was running for Nick's seat) unless Smith voted for the legislation. Robert Novak reported in his column that Smith was also told that "business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote." While Smith later recanted these allegations, his charges have the ring of truth, and they are in keeping with DeLay's thuggish tactics of forcing even his own Republican colleagues to submit to the Republican leadership's will on closely fought legislative matters.

DeLay's brazen attacks on democratic governance – a tangled web of truly scandalous behavior – are so outrageous that even conservative Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel has assailed the Republican leadership for fomenting an "anything goes" atmosphere: "I think we're on the edge of something dangerous if we don't turn it around.... It's like the Middle East. You just keep ratcheting up the intensity of the conflict." Real conservatives like Hagel believe that they should take responsibility for their actions. These conservatives actually value the rule of law, and they understand that the ends don't always justify the means in the pursuit of a radical right-wing ideology that serves corporate special interests above all.

Tom DeLay has never understood these things. He is committed to his take-no-prisoners agenda, and he sees ethics, morality and rules as nuisances that must be flouted, disdained and ignored. DeLay has racked up a record that demands investigation and action in the ethics committee and the courts of law. His scurrilous misdeeds demonstrate the yawning gap between a former President's private indiscretions and DeLay's dangerous violations of the public trust.

Katrina vanden Heuvel is Editor of The Nation.